April 27, 2005,
EDITOR'S NOTE: This piece appears in the May 9th, 2005, issue
"Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them." T. E. Lawrence
It is time to say it unequivocally: We are winning in Iraq.
If current trends continue, our counter-insurgent campaign in Iraq will be fit to be mentioned in the same breath as the British victory over a Communist insurgency in Malaysia in the 1950s, a textbook example of this form of war. Our counterinsurgency has gone through the same stages as that of the Brits five decades ago: confusion in the initial reaction to the insurgency, followed by a long period of adjustment, and finally the slow but steady erosion of the insurgency's military and political base. Even as there has been a steady diet of bad news about Iraq in the media over the last year, even as some hawks have bailed on the war in despair, even as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has become everyone's whipping boy, the U.S. military has been regaining the strategic upper hand.
This doesn't mean the war couldn't still go wrong. "It's not over," says a top officer in Iraq. A key assassination, continued Sunni rejectionism, an inter-sectarian explosion, or something unforeseen all could still derail us in Iraq. Nor does it mean that our effort is perfect. "I give us a B minus," says an administration official, a tough grader who is nonetheless an optimist. But it does mean that as of mid-April 2005 we are winning, just as surely as we were losing in the darkest days of the dual radical-Shia and radical-Sunni uprisings a year ago.
The basic approach of the Pentagon to the insurgency was right from the beginning. "The strategy was always political as well as military," says a Pentagon official. A counterinsurgency is never about simply killing enemy fighters the way it is or at least seems on a conventional battlefield. Insurgents have an endless capacity to replicate themselves, unless political conditions are created that drain them of support. If top policymakers always knew that intellectually, we have had to stumble our way to finding the correct ways to act on the insight.
Based on conversations with administration officials and key combatant commanders, this is the story of how, two years after the fall of Saddam, the U.S. has begun to win the war for Iraq . . .
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