Published 20 Nov 06
Walid Phares, Ph.D.
World Defense Review columnist
On Iraq: Listen carefully to General Abizaid
As the debate in the United States is still raging on the Iraq War – and as many believe that the last legislative elections were a message from the American public to change the course in that conflict – the question remains, how.
American politicians and their academic and activist advisors are rushing in all directions to search for that magic answer with most of the debaters parroting basically two main theses advanced by very few authors.
One militant doctrine – connecting the radical left and the isolationist right, to (ironically) the Jihadists around the world – calls for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, let alone from the War on Terror. The radical ideologues do not discuss a rational policy in the region they essentially want no U.S. policy at all. So, we'll discount their position.
The other quasi doctrine says, we need to win the war in Iraq so that we can pull the troops back home. Apparently, this projected equation is becoming the rallying cry for legislators and diplomats from both parties in the U.S. Congress: In short, feeling what they believe is a pressure from the voters, the winners and losers in the last elections agree that it is going to take one more deep push before beginning the big gradual withdrawal. While the backbone of this consensus is very logical by itself, and should have been applied to the entire War on Terror to begin with (we will come back to this issue in January), most politicians seem not to capture the very essence of the "turning point" in Iraq, let alone in the region as a whole. I would strongly recommend they listen carefully to the analysis of General John Abizaid, particularly his last testimony to the Senate.
In classical military teaching, you win the war if you destroy the enemy in a particular geographical space. Examples abound in world history. But in the War on Terror, the enemy is not identifiable within a particular space. The supreme commander of U.S. forces in the region often stated that the global foes are the complex networks of Salafi Jihadists on the one hand and the operatives of the Khumeinist regime in Iraq on the other. Hence, may I add, the measurement of success against them is the enabling of the region's peoples to resist them.
Unfortunately, the debaters in America and the West have been deprived (by their own academic elites) from the understanding of that enemy. Huge efforts are underway in Europe and North America to convince legislators and media that this is not an ideological war but rather a foreign policy matter. This leads decision-makers to measure in statistics not in concepts, hence the failures in design and policies.
Let's take Iraq as an example:
General Abizaid was asked by a panel of well informed Senators last week, how to "measure" the need to send in additional U.S. forces or to begin withdrawal from Iraq.
In short military sentences, the CENTCOM boss told them it will all depend on the ability of U.S. forces to train, support and direct Iraqi units in their confrontation with the terrorists. The Senators didn't seem the get Abizaid's very accurate point. Both Republican and Democrat legislators wanted a quantitative answer:
"How many additional troops do you need so that we can pull out lots of troops after," they repetitively asked with hints at past and future electoral promises to end the conflict.
Sticking with his analysis, Abizaid (who speaks the language of the region and has studied its ideologies) said the question is not to bring in more troops to Iraq, but to have Iraqi forces begin to win their war. This was the first key in the whole hearing. The man was trying to tell the Senators that more important than bringing in additional 20,000 Marines and soldiers, was to train an additional 50,000 Iraqi troops.
Indeed, the ultimate objective in this war (at least the counter-terrorist part of it) is to help the Iraqis help themselves. Surely with half a million boots on the ground you can saturate the whole country, but from what? There is no standing army the U.S. is fighting against.
The fight is against a factory that is producing Jihadists, both external and internal. The answer is to build the counter-factory: i.e. an Iraqi military and intelligence force. And to do so, you have to allow it to fight the battle, with all the sacrifices and setbacks that come with it. U.S. forces cannot keep fighting instead of the Iraqis, and win the war for them.
Aware of this reality, General Abizaid (along with his colleagues) was trying to explain to Congress that – in the historical context of it – the war against terrorism in Iraq is one of the centers of the global conflict. Even the seasoned U.S. diplomat David Satterfield, who was also testifying on behalf of the State Department, asserted the inescapable reality: it is about the Iraqis' political will. And in addition to the General and the diplomat, may I stress as an academic, that the matter at the end is psychological.
If Iraqi citizens "see" their army engaging the terrorists and winning, the tide will turn. It is not about how many new troops or about the statistics of death. It is between al Jazeera convincing Iraqis that the U.S. is defeated and that former Secretary of State Jim Baker (co-chair of the Iraq Study Group) is supposedly negotiating the terms of the surrender, and between al Hurra TV showing Iraqi commanders fraternizing with Shia and Sunni villagers after encounters with terrorists and sectarian militias. It boils down to this: who would the Iraqis send their sons to fight with: The Jihadists of all types or the multiethnic Army?
Without this understanding of the conflict, advocated by Abizaid, decision-makers are left with mostly political calculations: how to cut deals, how to get out, how not to suffer more losses, and how to be reelected or super-elected in 2008. General Abizaid instead recommended moves that make sense only if we can see the bigger picture:
- Insert U.S. forces within Iraqi units: Reduce the presence of American (and Coalition) military in the "Jihadi zones" and instead deploy more Iraqi-American solidified forces. Call on U.S. units to strategically support Iraqis when the Jihadists are rebuilding other "Fallujahs." Let the sons and daughters of Iraq take the fight to the terrorists, should they be Salafists or Khumeinists. This is their time to face off with their enemy (who happens to be our enemy). Let them engage and test their will and the will of the people they are protecting and liberating. Let al Jazeera and al Hurra (their media and ours) and the Iraqiya TV (Iraqi national TV) show the panache or the setback of their own forces. It is fine if we don't take all the credit for all the battles. It is fine if the Iraqi military takes the front row for the good and the bad. Let their generals, commanders, soldiers be in the media and lash out against the Jihadists. And at the core of each unit, let's place the best of our U.S. support. The bottom line, Iraqis needs victories in Arabic language (and also in Kurdish, Assyrian and Turkic). Audiences in Baghdad need to hear Iraqi commentators evaluating the conflict, not talking heads from New York to Los Angeles. This is not our exclusive war in Mesopotamia; this is also Iraq's war against terror and fascism, whether our intellectual elites like it or not.
- U.S. and Coalition forces should redeploy inside Iraq not away from it at this point in time. The actual need for ground, sea, and air forces should be designed by those who are waging the war in the realm of reality; not by those who are managing domestic politics at home. For lovers of debates, televised war-rooms and partisan labyrinths we suggest another arena of talents: engage the Iraqi people, politicians, youth, women, and mobilize them. Visit Iraq and meet with them or invite them to your cities, towns and campuses back at home. Be a part of the international mobilization, not the global demobilization. Strategically, large chunks of the expeditionary force should be deploying on or about the Iraqi-Iranian and Iraqi-Syrian borders. Use the weight of American might to deter the two regimes who are at real war with Iraq's emerging democracy. Don't let the agents of Damascus and Tehran killing the guys and gals in convoys and patrols inside urban areas. Fulfill the strategy of liberation with smarter moves instead of self-collapsing.
One good question at that hearing, though, was the ability of the Iraqi government to fulfill its obligations of grooming its own army and disarming the various militias. That indeed is a legitimate question. Why isn't Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki moving fast enough to clamp down on the Shia militias? Why isn't his government supporting the Iraqi army with enough energy? Plenty of relevant questions can be asked. The answer resides in the U.S. strategy for Iraq. Remember, politicians are politicians, from Montana to Basra: They all want to see their interests as a part of the global interest. When the U.S. shows leadership in the region, Iraq's leaders will function better. Let's take our gloves off: If we send the units to deploy on the Iraqi Iranian borders, Iraqi Shiite politicians will become bolder in rooting out Iranian operatives from Sadr City. This is how it works. But if in response to a full month of Iranian military maneuvers, we send former diplomats to "negotiate a role for Ahmedinijad" in Najaf's security, don't expect Maliki or even Sistani to stop Muqtada al Sadr. One massive mistake the U.S. government and the political establishment has committed and continues to practice is to squeeze too many cooks into the Iraq kitchen.
Last but not least, I was stupefied that instead of asking General Abizaid to comment on books and literature produced by the enemy, he was grilled on paragraphs from a best-seller by an American journalist. With all my respect to Mr. Bob Woodward and his many journalistic achievements, State of Denial is not a military manual or a book on Jihadism, Baathism, insurgencies, or the memoirs of Bin Laden and Khomeini. It is a chilling reminder of American domestic politics, but not an analysis of al Muhajer and al Sadr strategies in Iraq. What we need to have in the center of our debate is a state of strategy not just gossip thrillers.
In the end, and as the nation is looking desperately for ways to "solve" Iraq, it is crucial that we dissipate the foggy vision of that conflict: Concentrate on reading the enemy, understand your allies and focus on the big plan; the rest is cacophony. In Iraq, it means analyze the speeches of the Jihadists and Ahmedinijad, listen to the Iraqis and talk with them, and let them have victories over their enemies. This is the recipe of the centurions and their chief, John Abizaid. I hope the new Rome's Senate will hear.
— Dr Walid Phares is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) in Washington, D.C., and director of the Future Terrorism Project of the FDD. He is a visiting fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels. His most recent book is Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against the West.
Dr Phares holds degrees in law and political science from Saint Joseph University and the Lebanese University in Beirut, a Masters in international law from the Universite de Lyons in France and a Ph.D. in international relations and strategic studies from the University of Miami.
He has taught and lectured at numerous universities worldwide, practiced law in Beirut , and served as publisher of Sawt el-Mashreq and Mashrek International. He has taught Middle East political issues, ethnic and religious conflict, and comparative politics at Florida Atlantic University until 2006.
Dr. Phares has written seven books on the Middle East and published hundreds of articles in newspapers and scholarly publications such as Global Affairs, Middle East Quarterly, the Journal of South Asian and Middle East Studies and the Journal of International Security. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, BBC, al Jazeera, al Hurra, as well as on radio broadcasts.
Aside from serving on the boards of several national and international think tanks and human rights associations, Dr. Phares has testified before the US Senate Subcommittees on the Middle East and South East Asia, the House Committees on International Relations and Homeland Security and regularly conducts congressional and State Department briefings, and he was the author of the memo that introduced UNSCR 1559 in 2004.
© 2006 Walid Phares
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