Discussion on Merits of War In Iraq
The following is a discussion with professor Steven Metz Chairman:Regional Strategy and Planning Strategic Studies Institute of U.S. Army War College, and Con George-Kotzabasis held on Small Wars Journal blog on June 8, 2007
Dr. Metz said,
I’m no Obama fan, but I’m uncomfortable with logic of this essay. Iraq–like all counterinsurgency–is not a two-way game which pits the United States against the insurgents. While I personally disagree with the set-a-time-definite-for-withdrawal crowd, I can understand their argument (even while I do not accept it): the Iraqi government is not fully motivated to do what it needs to do to resolve the conflict as long as the American presence remains what it is. Moreover, every conflict forces the participants to decide whether the costs of persisting outweigh the costs of disengagement.
Certainly an American withdrawal from Iraqi would be trumpeted by AQ as a victory, but the question is whether that is worse than the costs of persistence (in terms of blood, money, the erosion of the military, political prestige, etc.)Not sure if you wrote the essay or someone else did, but I also take great issue with the contention that Petraeus can or should defeat the insurgency in Iraq. Primary responsibility lies with the Iraqis; secondarily with the U.S. embassy. Petraeus, in military jargon, is the “supporting” participant, not the “supported.”
Dr. Metz, I would agree with you entirely that one has to count the costs of withdrawal with the costs of persistence if the Iraq war was an isolated one disengaged from the war against global terror. The fact however is that the war in Iraq now-whether it was so or not in the past is no longer the question-is an essential part of global terror. We see this not only in the pull that it has on the true believers of Islam from all over the world who fervently enter the ranks of the insurgency, but also in the imitation of the techniques of the latter, since they appear to be so successful against the coalition forces, by other jihadists, who are also waging war against the infidels in other parts of the world. Hence, America is involved in a long global war and not an isolated one, and must therefore count its costs on a mega-scale as they issue from its long term strategic interests, prestige, and indeed, its existence as the sole superpower that is the sine qua non of the stability of the world in these most dangerous times.
Taking a cue from our other confrere John Fishel, the coalition forces are engaged in continuous major military operations against the insurgents with the goal to create the necessary security that is vital for the stabilization of the Iraqi government which is the linchpin of its ability to govern the country without American props. It seems to me therefore following this logic, that your question whether GEN Petraeus is the “supporting” or ” supported”, can be answered that he is both. Supporting the Iraqi government to stand on its own feet and supported by the political establishment (Ambassador Crocker) to do exactly that.
Hence, it seems to me to be obvious, that the paramountcy of resolving the conflict in Iraq, lies with the military and not with diplomacy. Especially when this conflict is drenched so heavily with religious fervour that is not open to the rational discourse of diplomacy, as we have witnessed lately of Hamas.
To your question whether I wrote the original essay, the answer is yes.
Dr. Metz said,
Important points but to me the President’s logic seems somewhat like the “domino theory” as applied to Vietnam. That turned out to not be true.In terms of Iraq, we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Disengagement will bolster the morale of Islamic extremists and reinforce the point that they can defeat the U.S.; persisting will erode the morale of the American public and do damage to the U.S. military. Which is the lesser evil? I myself am not sure. I am worried, though, that Iraq becomes a pyrrhic victory–the costs of success there so weaken us that we have failures elsewhere. To take one illustration, I think a case can made that if American morale and prestige had not been so weakened by Vietnam, we would have been able to act more effectively in Iran in the last 1970s. I’m concerned by that by so devoting ourselves to Iraq, we allow other, perhaps bigger, problems to fester and grow worse.
While an argument can be made that the foreign fighters in Iraq are not amenable to any sort of political resolution and simply need to be killed, if their support network among Iraqi Sunni Arabs is taken apart, killing them becomes much easier. Plus, I don’t think AQI can, on its own, attain anything like “strategic success” without its allies in the Iraqi Sunni Arab community.Personally, I’m just hard pressed to imagine a military outcome that totally prevents suicide bombers. You can’t guard everything and everyone all the time (unless we want to reinstate the draft and deploy a few million forces).
It’s certainly true that the U.S. is in the unenviable position of being damned if she does and damned if she does not. But I would still argue, in the face of the great and ominous dangers that the West is facing and America being the only power that can defeat global terror, it’s better to be damned for doing something than for doing nothing. (“Nothing comes out of nothing” King Lear.) This despite all the errors that inevitably are committed in all wars as a result of human limitations. And before the daunting huge scale operations involved in war, it’s nigh impossible to probe and foresee all the unknowns embedded in them.