Although Richard Lugar may believes the war in Iraq is lost, reality, like the waves of the sea, is usually a little more complex. Pajamas Media has been following the troubles in Iran, the latest of which is apparently the rationing of gasoline, a matter that may be related to reports of gas stations being set alight. The incidents may not constitute an existential threat to the regime, but its a reminder that the enemy is also under stress.
Bill Roggio follows the offensive, one of several simultaneous and ongoing ones, in Anbar. It is codenamed "Fahrad Al Amin" or Operation Safety and Security. It is a Marine show.
The purpose of Fahrad Al Amin is to "make sure al Qaeda and the insurgents have no safe sanctuary where they can rest, refit, stage and plan for attacks," said Brig Gen Gurganus. "We want to keep any of ones we have in Al Anbar from getting to and being able to joint the fight in Baghdad."
What is the purpose of pre-empting al-Qaeda attempts to establish a new sanctuary? David Kilcullen explains in an article in the Small Wars Journal.
These operations are qualitatively different from what we have done before. Our concept is to knock over several insurgent safe havens simultaneously, in order to prevent terrorists relocating their infrastructure from one to another, and to create an operational synergy between what we're doing in Baghdad and what's happening outside. Unlike on previous occasions, we don't plan to leave these areas once they’re secured. These ops will run over months, and the key activity is to stand up viable local security forces in partnership with Iraqi Army and Police, as well as political and economic programs, to permanently secure them.
But in case you think this the main battle, and alright it will last several months, Dr. Kilcullen soon quashes that notion. We are just shaping the battlefield for the main fight ahead.
The really decisive activity will be police work, registration of the population and counterintelligence in these areas, to comb out the insurgent sleeper cells and political cells that have "gone quiet" as we moved in, but which will try to survive through the op and emerge later. This will take operational patience, and it will be intelligence-led, and Iraqi government-led. It will probably not make the news (the really important stuff rarely does) but it will be the truly decisive action.
The reader will probably have observed that the operational dictates of counterinsurgency warfare -- any counterinsurgency warfare, by the way, and not simply that undertaken by the Bush administration -- typically takes place on a time scale one or two orders of magnitude greater than the media cycle or Washington electoral politics. The horizons of the political system are marked in installments of two and four years. Those of the media are probably demarcated in months. And here is Kilcullen talking about shaping operations lasting months before the real battle begins. But that's because the strategic objectives of the US military in Iraq are actually political. Let Kilcullen explain.
When we speak of "clearing" an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation. If we don't get every enemy cell in the initial operation, that's OK. The point of the operations is to lift the pall of fear from population groups that have been intimidated and exploited by terrorists to date, then win them over and work with them in partnership to clean out the cells that remain – as has happened in Al Anbar Province and can happen elsewhere in Iraq as well.
The "terrain" we are clearing is human terrain, not physical terrain. It is about marginalizing al Qa’ida, Shi’a extremist militias, and the other terrorist groups from the population they prey on. This is why claims that “80% of AQ leadership have fled” don’t overly disturb us: the aim is not to kill every last AQ leader, but rather to drive them off the population and keep them off, so that we can work with the community to prevent their return.
Kilcullen's assertions are all Counterinsurgency 101. There is nothing original in them. And when one considers that the roots of the radical Islamic movement go back decades, as described by Lawrence Wright in his book The Looming Tower one realizes that the one thing the War on Terror is, as explained from the beginning, is that it is a generational war. An evil prepared over a long span of years requires years to undo. Whether the President or his audience ever really believed those words or understood their full import is another thing.
Whether the message that the current crisis will take years to resolve shall ever be believed is yet another matter. There is a very strong streak of impatience in politics. The very difficult is expected to be accomplished in two years. The impossible may take a little longer. Fortunately, real problems defy media impatience and society eventually shifts mental gears to deal with it. This happened with the AIDs crisis. Perhaps some day it will happen in the confrontation with the networked global insurgency. In the first years of the AIDs crisis there was great impatience and desperates hopes among sufferers for a "cure" round the corner. Something out of Harvard or Johns Hopkins. Interferon, maybe. With the passage of years came the acceptance that there was probably no single forthcoming "cure" Yet this realization was tempered by the gradual realization that while AIDs defied -- and still defies -- a Silver Bullet solution, real and important victories were constantly being won against the disease. A drug here, a drug there. Little by little the fearsome epidemic, which some actually believed would destroy the human race in the early frantic years, became gradually less terrifying. Today there are hopes that AIDs may someday become a serious, but chronic disease. Something that can be managed like hypertension. AIDs still kills, but we have a handle on it; and it is not the end of the world.
David Kilcullen, in explaining operations in Iraq, seems to be mentally at that point already. He does not categorically say 'we are going to win'. He says 'we are making progress here' and 'things are working there'. He is encouraged without being certain. He sees the political and the lead bullets strike home and knows things are not hopeless; that the enemy, like us, are simply men. If they can be defeated individually and in groups they can be defeated collectively. They too are uncertain of victory, perhaps more than we should be and yet have not despaired of it. To their credit they fight on in doubt, sustained by necessity, faith or habit born of a desert patience against adversity. Whether the West can do the same is open to question. It is one thing to criticize current strategy and call for better, to shift more of the burden to Iraqis, to use all the "sources of national power". But it is another thing to say: we have lost. From this there is no redemption; victory can never be guaranteed. But defeat can. What will happen? All Kilcullen can offer in the end is the assessment, "time will tell." Indeed it will.