Steel City Cowboy

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Why the U.S. Cannot Defeat the Insurgency in Iraq

Don't let the title fool you. It's not what you think. Also, blurb about why this is relevant to the Senate legislation in the Postscript below.

The U.S. (it's a coalition, for certain, but we'd be there without help anyway, and they wouldn't be there if we weren't, so I'm going to shorthand it to the U.S.) cannot defeat the Iraqi insurgency simply because there is no Iraqi insurgency. The term "insurgency", used by almost all news outlets and commentators, implies that the combatants our forces encounter are Iraqis who are fighting against us and their own government to effect a change in the political system. That is what insurgencies do; it is how they are defined. But that is not what is going on in Iraq. Granted, at first, there was a significant contingent of Sunni Ba'athists who were actually attempting to alter the emerging political landscape with violence. That was, by definition, an insurgency, but as can be seen from the growing Sunni participation in the peaceful political process, one that has been largely dealt with.

So who are we fighting now? Financing for the current crew of terrorists attacking U.S. and Iraqi forces and civilians is not coming from inside Iraq. Caleb Temple, senior intelligence officer of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), stated in testimony before Congress this summer that the majority of funding comes from former Ba'athist officials who had fled to Syria, Jordan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as corrupt Islamic charities. The U.S. (and other western nations) have been cracking down on such charities that operate within their own borders, so it is not outside of the realms of possibility for a government to curtail such activities. By their inaction, the governments of Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia are complicit in, if not directly responsible for, this type of funding. In the same testimony session, Daniel Glaser, who heads the Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, stated that the main vector for insurgent funding is "the physical transportation of cash into Iraq, particularly across the Iraqi-Syrian border." You will not be shocked to learn that I think Syria is complicit in these actions.

Just as the funding for these operations does not come from within Iraq, neither do most of the recruits. In the last year, a large proportion of fighters captured have been non-native to Iraq. Many of those captured describe how they were duped, drugged or coerced into joining the war and subsequently participating in what amounts to suicide operations (note: I consider engaging U.S. and Iraqi forces in open gun battles to be suicide operations).

So, if the "insurgency", though begun by Ba'athist holdouts and released hardened criminals, has ultimately been co-opted and sustained by the efforts of foreign financiers and jihadis with the complicit (and most likely active) support of the host governments of Syria and Iran, what does that mean? Well, it means that the U.S. is engaged in a battle, alongside it's newest ally Iraq, against the covert aggression of Iran and Syria. The Iranian/Syrian goal is twofold: prevent the successful establishment of constitutional democracy in Iraq and cause U.S. forces to be removed from the Middle East by a war-weary American public. Achieving the first goal makes the second easier, but both are valuable outcomes for the bad guys, and one could certainly be done without the other.

Interestingly enough, these goals are the direct opposite of current U.S. strategic goals: stabilize a constitutional democracy in Iraq and create a U.S. military presence in the Middle East that is capable of projecting force on demand. Anyone who can read a map can figure out why we went into Iraq first. There were good reasons to go after any one of the gang there that you care to name, but Iraq was right in the middle.

So, why do I say that we cannot defeat the forces arrayed against us in Iraq? Because as long as we remain only in Iraq, we cannot bring the fight to them. In WWII, neither the meat grinder of the Russian front nor the routing of the Imperial Navy caused Germany or Japan to surrender. It was only when their homelands and seats of power were directly under attack (or taken, in the case of Germany) that the war ended. And so it will be in the Middle East. Iraq is simply an ancillary battleground for our war with Iran and Syria. Our troops can intercept money, weapons and jihadis all year. They can run up and down the Euphrates, killing scores of terrorists, capturing nasty folks and building schools. But none of that will prevent Syria, Iran and the private financiers and recruiters from continuing to send in more irregulars. I am not saying that our efforts are futile. Absolutely not. Here's why:

Our final goal is the establishment of stability through democracy and free markets in the Middle East. We would like to do it diplomatically, but without a significant presence of physical power in the region, that is not going to happen. Currently, our power is still tied up in securing it's foothold. Our military in the Middle East is useless for purposes of enhancing our diplomatic capabilities.

So what's the point of being there? Excellent question. We must remain there, attempting to turn back the covert invasion by Iran and Syria, and to take the heat until the Iraqis are able to do it for themselves. Only when our large mass of troops is freed from its obligations in Iraq do we have a chance of stopping the problem at it's source. Now, this doesn't mean that we will be attacking Iran or Syria with our military. Not necessarily. We won't need to. When we have 100,000 American Marines and soldiers sitting in Northern Iraq with little to do but polish their weapons because the Iraqis are dealing with their own security, Syria and Iran will then begin to take our diplomats seriously. Then and only then can we give teeth to our requests that they cut off the flows of money, weapons and people into Iraq. And when their homelands and seats of power are finally threatened directly, they will (hopefully) fold like the Japanese in WWII. Of course, it's possible that they will require substantially more persuasion, as the Germans did, but if the time comes, we will have that capability.

So, to parse the misleading title of this piece a bit differently, as long as we are fighting in Iraq, we will not be able to stop the insurgency. When it gets to the point where U.S. troops don't have to fight any more, we will finally have a chance to stop "the insurgency" at its real source.

Postscript: This also points out how foolish Senate Republicans are being with their current draft legislation calling on Iraqi forces to take the lead in Iraq. Great job guys. You're likely to put the President and the military into the horrible position of having to either weather the slings and arrows of their critics in silence, or to disclose their strategic plans to the world in their own defense. Argh.