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Do We Have Permission to Win in Iraq?

By David Warren

So far as I can make out -- I am not writing from Iraq, but I do make a splendid effort to follow the plot there -- the Americans are finally doing what they should have been doing all along. They are taking the battle to the Islamist enemy, or rather, enemies, both Shia and Sunni. They are enlisting the help of tribal lords and other local allies against these enemies, de-emphasizing the grand "Marshall Plan" giveaways, and re-emphasizing small, visible, unbureaucratic improvements on that local scale. They have become less timid about inspections and searches, and thus have taken bigger risks of offending people, in the knowledge that providing better security is the only thing that will get them loved. They not only have more men now in theatre, but are using more proportionally up front and fewer in the rear. They are patrolling frontiers more pro-actively, and turning no blind eyes to suspicious incursions. By using different techniques in different districts, they are also breaking the enemy's ability to camouflage.

It is a little known fact -- at least, to the Western media -- that the vast majority of Iraqis cannot possibly want to live under the murderous tyranny of a relatively small number of Islamist psychopaths, of foreign inspiration, and will do everything except master the art of self-government to avoid it. What has changed, over the past few years, would seem to be the popular attitude towards the future, in Iraq. It contains more fear, and is therefore easier to harness towards such specific ends as finding Islamist terrorists and annihilating them.

A remarkable piece was published on the op-ed of the New York Times, on Monday. Remarkable not for its content (it told us what we should already know), but for who wrote it: Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, two non-friends of the Bush administration. Having just returned from Iraq, they said they were struck by a turnaround in morale, that could only be attributed to the recent arrival of Gen. David Petraeus, and the general offensive he was charged to oversee. "The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander; ... they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference." The authors also cited statistical indications that the tide is turning.

Contrast this with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, back in Washington: "This war is lost. There's simply no evidence that the escalation is working."

Sen. Reid has a long history of seeing no evidence where there is plenty of evidence, and plenty of evidence where there is no evidence, but that is beside the point. He represents the core, Democrat "defeatist" constituency. That constituency is not something recently formed. The idea that Iraq is "another Vietnam," and that any American enterprise (that doesn't involve the expansion of the welfare state) must necessarily be "another Vietnam," is, for these people, an article in a creed.

But it is important to remember the history. A previous generation of these Democrats first insisted on shoving their South Vietnamese allies aside, and trying to run the war for them; then of imposing all kinds of restraints on their battlefield commanders which, in aggregate, made victory impossible. And then, when they tired of the war, they abandoned the Vietnamese to their fate, with the additional Congressional touch of cutting off South Vietnam's supply of arms and ammunition. Finally, they just watched as the Communist guerrillas from the jungle were replaced by North Vietnamese regulars in tanks, driving openly down the American-built highways to receive the surrender of Saigon, while the U.S. Seventh Fleet was hovering offshore, with the equipment to "mow them down to marmalade."

It was a rout so ignominious, that it destroyed the credibility of the United States, probably adding ten years to the life of the Soviet Empire. It inspired Communist advances in Afghanistan, Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and elsewhere; and, little appreciated at the time, Islamist advances overtly in Iran, and covertly throughout the Muslim world.

Such Democrats -- not all Democrats, there were "Scoop Jackson Democrats" throughout the Cold War -- often complain that their Republican opponents "question their patriotism," when all they have done is advocate a policy of defeat and humiliation for the United States abroad. All I can add to Dr Johnson's famous remark that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," is the observation that traitors tend to be especially sensitive to the charge of treason.

There are background problems still not adequately confronted. The Iraqi political order is nearly dysfunctional, and there is little that can currently be done, politically or practically, about the sponsors of Islamist subversion in Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.

But given the hard geopolitical fact, that cutting and running from Iraq will be a catastrophe for the West, on a scale even bigger than cutting and running from Vietnam, let's just keep fighting until we win.

© Ottawa Citizen

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