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What to Do in Iraq

By David Warren

"And your strategy is?" asked one reader, who had read my recent, rather discouraging columns on Iraq, in which I condemned the Baker-Hamilton "Iraq Study Group" -- that proposes a smooth retreat before the West's mortal enemies -- more warmly than I could ever condemn U.S. Democrats (and many Republicans) trying to find the vocabulary with which to "cut and run".

Or here is how the question was asked by an old-fashioned liberal with whom I correspond: "Mr. Warren, the question now is how to win the war. Even its proponents are in despair, and I don't believe it is because weak-kneed liberals are in the ascendant. If there is a way ahead the support will be there. With the utmost respect: if you see the way ahead, in the name of God tell us."

Over the years since 9/11, I've hesitated to say "what should be done", from two motives. First, there is a war going on. I took President Bush for the legitimate captain of the allied war effort, and wished to avoid second-guessing him. But the mid-term election in the U.S. confirmed publicly what was already happening behind the scenes. Mr Bush was successfully demonized by his domestic and foreign foes, and his authority as President is now undermined. The direction of the war effort has thus been opened for general discussion.

Second, in my heart, I know many even of my fondest readers have not the stomach for "what should be done". Political correctness has penetrated so deeply into the soul of Western man, that even people trying to resist it, readily succumb to the fantasies it engenders, and instinctively avoid looking reality in the eye. I have hesitated to prescribe because, if I say what I really think, people may shriek inconsolably.

For I don't think we have any serious problem in the availability of resources. The number of U.S. and allied troops on the ground in Iraq, and the arms they carry, are sufficient unto the day. U.S. and allied deployments in the region are a little thin for the larger purpose of dealing with e.g. Syria and Iran. But they are formidable.

It is the "strategy" of counter-insurgency in Iraq, that is all wrong. There and in Afghanistan, the idea of "winning their hearts and minds" -- which ought to have been buried during the Vietnam War -- still governs all military decisions. The world media stand ready to give U.S. and allies a very black eye, the moment the slightest mistake is made in distinguishing between armed jihadis and their sometimes-unarmed sympathizers. Forays into the "Sunni Triangle" were, from the beginning, conducted with a caution and delicacy that is simply incompatible with victory in war.

To put this plainly: the "strategy" in Fallujah should have been to make it into a parking lot, and build a Wal-Mart at one end. There would have been great loss of life, but the message to our enemies and their supporters everywhere would have been, "We will not be toyed with." Civilians whose sympathies are with the enemy cannot be won over, and have not been, by the "candy to children" approach. They must be taught that sheltering the enemy -- even involuntarily -- means sharing the enemy's fate. (The distinction between what is voluntary and involuntary soon changes under those conditions.) And this, in the longer run, is what saves millions of lives.

The strategy against the insinuation of foreign jihadis and supplies, into Iraq across international frontiers, should have been -- should now be -- extremely hot pursuit. And the chief reason to build the allied force structure in the region is to prepare, and be seen to be preparing, for a much wider conflict. For the war in Iraq cannot be isolated.

As important as military might, is the consensus behind its use. What can I say?

That this is why wars must be fought quickly. We could never afford to have Iraq drawn out for longer than the U.S. stayed in WWII. Nor did we defeat Nazi Germany by "winning their hearts and minds". It was done by insuperable violence and intimidation: the way wars have invariably been won in the modern world. And "bombing Dresden" was (for more reasons than I have space to expound) a necessary part of that mix.

What worked on the Nazis, would be not less but more immediately effective on an enemy conditioned to methods of war in which he feeds exclusively on weakness of will, exploitating our fear, hesitation, and cowardice; who reads every pulled punch not as decency but as a confession of allied weakness.

My instinct at the beginning, before the invasion of Iraq had begun, was, "Split it into three governable pieces -- majority Kurd, Sunni, and Shia -- and install three pro-Western strongmen with secular, democratic aspirations. Then come heavy-handedly to their defence whenever they need it. By all means pour in aid, but make every penny of it conditional on unambiguous local cooperation. Do not be shy about imposing Western values."

This is still what I would recommend, summarized in a few hundred words. It is the only "strategy" I can imagine, that could end in victory instead of a defeat that will most certainly come back to haunt us, where we live.

© Ottawa Citizen

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