Monday, July 30, 2007

Iraq from Iraq, and from elsewhere

Michael Totten on night patrol in Baghdad. Lots happens, and nothing happens.

This is what it is like most nights during counter-insurgency warfare. “It’s like we’re Baghdad PD,” one soldier put it. It isn’t always open war and explosions and bang-bang. Much of it entails patient police work and the chasing of ghosts.

The Iraqi counter-insurgency would be a hard war to film accurately. Most of the time it’s so quiet. But it’s the quiet of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, not of rural Middle America. Explosions, mortars, bullets, rockets…these things can come flying at you at any time.

Thankfully, on this occasion, they didn't.

Please read this marvellous article by Robert Tracinski on why we have to stay the course. I've chosen a lot of excerpts, but you really should read the whole thing.

Thus, the shifting goal of the Iraq war should be no surprise. We invaded to pre-empt Saddam Hussein's acquisition or use of chemical and nuclear weapons--but we had to stay to avoid handing Iraq over to the control of our other enemies.

Our weaknesses.

America's two crucial weak spots in war are the pragmatism and moral timidity of the right--and the active Western self-loathing of the left.

The first weak spot, for example, causes such strategic errors as the belief that we could fight a war narrowly within Iraq, without fighting a larger regional conflict against Iran and Syria. That decision allowed those two dictatorships to create and support the insurgency with impunity.

The second weak spot furnishes the left with a moral fifth column, a wide cultural movement within the West that will seek to exploit any errors and setbacks in the war as proof that we are morally unfit to fight it and must surrender.

Their weakness

For all their talk of an Islamic "caliphate," today's Islamists do not really have such an organized vision. Their ideology is not taken from Lenin but from Mohammed--a cruder, more primitive source. It is a charter, not for a modern state, but for tribal gang warfare, and the rule of the Islamists has been dominated by the capricious whim of holy warriors, usually without much pretense of scientific organization or the rule of law.

The message of defeat

Conservatives are correct that withdrawal from such a conflict will convey weakness to our enemies, but it is not just a generalized weakness. It is a specific weakness: the unwillingness to fight and win a counter-insurgency war. In ratifying this weakness, we will be telling our enemies: here is where and how to strike us, if you want to defeat us every time.

The Islamists share one crucial characteristic with the old Arab nationalist strongmen: they promise their followers strength. They promise victory and conquest as a balm for the deep-seated Muslim sense of inferiority and humiliation. Bin Laden described the theory behind his international terrorist crime spree as the "strong horse" theory: the people will support his cause because they regard it as successful, while they see the enemy as weak.

Finally, The New York Times thinks the unthinkable. We might win.

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