Fighting in Iraq

The war is hot once again in several Iraqi cities, and everyone is getting a little tense. Fallujah, of course, is among the hottest of the hot spots, but several different groups seem to have picked this time to strike back against the occupiers. The US is taking some casualties, and the words “quagmire”, “Tet”, “Mogadishu”, and “Vietnam” are all over the news stories and blog posts once again.

Before everyone gets too excited about the impending defeat of the USA, though, let's look back twelve months for a moment. Remember the fedayeen attacks that tied up the Marines in Nasiriyah? The ambush of Jessica Lynch's maintenance convoy? The Mars-like sandstorm? How about the operational pause? And, even if all of that could be overcome somehow, the savage street fighting in Baghdad loomed ahead of us.

What words were on everybody's lips last year at this time?

Quagmire. Tet. Mogadishu. Vietnam.

Were they the right words to be using in April of 2003? Hindsight tells us clearly that they weren't. Can we at least wait long enough to see who's winning the battles before panicking?

What will this do to George Bush? Well, in the short term, it will hurt his poll numbers. The more American soldiers killed or wounded, the farther he'll slip. But I don't think this is a make-or-break moment for the President. I also don't think Condoleezza Rice's testimony later this week will be a make-or-break moment. If this was all happening in October, it would be a different story, of course. But there is a lot of time for poll numbers to change, and a lot of time for things to change in Iraq.

The hand-over of power on June 30 is a big moment, to be sure. If Baghdad suffers continuous power-outages in July and August, it certainly won't look good. Obviously, a significant war between the Sunnis, Shiites, and/or Kurds would spell disaster for our plan in the Middle East. Everyone knows all of this.

I think that the fighting now going on in a number of Iraqi cities is probably the best thing that could happen at this point, both for the Iraq plan and for Bush's re-election. There was bound to be more bloodshed over the next six months. I expected a spurt around the anniversary of the invasion and then more as June 30 approached and a final gasp as the American elections neared. Maybe the scraps we're in now can serve to head off some of that. Maybe the militias that oppose us can be de-fanged to an extent.

There are only so many people in Iraq willing to fight US troops. Certainly, our continuing presence there will cause some to take up arms against us, and al Qaeda and others seem to be working around the clock to sneak more fighters in. But, in terms of posing a serious threat to US power or Iraqi security, there are a finite number of jihadist and bomb-planters. Many of them are being killed as we speak.

The next days and weeks are going to be tense. Many fine American men are going to lose their lives in the fighting. But the key to making sure that this isn't another Somalia or another Vietnam isn't in the fighting of the battles, it's in the reaction to our victories. The aftermaths of Tet and Mogadishu might have been opportunities for us to exploit a spent enemy. They might have been keys to our eventual victory, just like the initial defeats in the German Ardennes offensive led to an eventual rout of the attackers. Instead, we chose not to play to win.

The reason that Iraq is going to be different than Vietnam and Somalia isn't that we aren't going to make mistakes or that our enemy isn't going to fight cunningly and tenaciously. We've already learned that we still make far too many mistakes, and that our enemy is indeed tough and determined.

The reason that Iraq is going to be different than Vietnam and Somalia is that we are going to stay the course. George Bush has demonstrated that he intends to be victorious in Iraq, regardless of what his opponents wish for, and our military has demonstrated that we will fight to win.

It wasn't the booby traps and ambushes and counter-attacks that defeated us in Vietnam and Somalia. There will always be booby traps and ambushes and counter-attacks. We were defeated by a lack of willpower. Rightly or wrongly, the Bush administration has demonstrated unshakable willpower so far in Iraq, and I believe that they will continue to do so.

That will be the deciding factor.

Posted by murdoc at April 7, 2004 8:27 AM | TrackBack (1)