Are Dennis Kucinich and Donald Rumsfeld secret allies? You'd think the
Democrats' most vocal peacenik and the GOP warlord would have little
in common, but both seem to be in a hurry to get U.S. troops out of Iraq.
Even with Saddam Hussein in the bag and awaiting trial, that's a bad
If Rummy is from Mars, Kucinich is from Pluto. The longshot presidential aspirant
wants to withdraw all our troops now and dump the whole mess on the United
Nations. Rumsfeld's exit strategy is Iraqification -- drawing down
U.S. troops in this election year and handing off responsibility for security
to hastily trained Iraqi forces.
If the U.S.-led coalition was merely mopping up Saddam's diehards, bringing some
troops home would make sense. But the Pentagon announced its force reductions
back in November, which turned out to be the bloodiest month of the conflict
to date as 81 Americans were killed.
The escalating violence prompted facile and mostly misleading analogies between
Iraq and Vietnam. But in one respect, the comparison is apt: The United States
is once again waging a classic counterinsurgency campaign in a country whose
culture seems worlds apart from ours. Like it or not, America is back in the
business of winning hearts and minds.
How are we doing? On the plus side, Saddam's meek surrender to U.S. troops punctured
his image as a latter-day Saladin, deprived the resistance of its most potent
symbol, and slammed the door shut on a Baathist return to power. More prosaically,
the coalition has restored electricity to much of the country, schools have reopened,
and markets are bustling in Baghdad again. Coalition forces still face daily
attacks but the body count tilts massively in their favor. And by agreeing to
hand back sovereignty to a transitional Iraqi government as early as June 2004,
the coalition has eased Iraqi's fears of an unending American occupation.
There's plenty on the minus side, but the big issue is security. Instead of petering
out, as the Bush administration predicted, the insurgency seems to have grown
in scope and sophistication. "Since September, resistance elements have
appeared to be better directed, better organized and more capable, employing
new weapons and new tactics," reports Jeffrey White, a former U.S. intelligence
analyst now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
What the United States needs now is not an exit strategy but a comprehensive
counterinsurgency strategy. The key elements of such a strategy are more supple
military tactics, more money, and more allies.
With Saddam on ice, the coalition should carefully calibrate its use of force
to avoid injuring innocent civilians as well as Iraqis' sense of wounded national
pride. The coalition also needs to do a better job of protecting Iraqis, not
just itself. Crime is rampant, but what Iraq analyst Ken Pollack calls the U.S.
military's "obsession with force protection" keeps too many troops
off the streets. More joint street patrols by U.S. troops and newly trained Iraqi
police would go far toward boosting Iraqis' confidence that life really is better
in liberated Iraq. But that requires more troops, not fewer, and it means deploying
them in ways that could raise the risk of U.S. casualties.
In fact, the coalition needs more of everything in Iraq: more light infantry,
more bureaucrats, more reconstruction workers, more civil affairs officers, more
linguists, and more intelligence agents. The most plausible way to meet these
needs is to internationalize Iraq's reconstruction, so that we can tap the resources
of other countries that have more experience in nation-building than we do. Instead,
the administration is counting on Iraqis -- just emerging from a quarter-century
of totalitarian terror -- to quickly do the job themselves.
Finally, counterinsurgency also means spending money to win influential allies,
especially tribal sheikhs in the Sunni heartland who enjoyed special favors from
Saddam. United States commanders on the ground say pumping money into the local
economy can undercut the insurgents' appeal and save U.S. lives.
The administration has rightly made the democratic transformation of the greater
Middle East the grand American project of the 21st century. That job starts in
Iraq. If we fail here, our hopes for liberalizing the region will be stillborn.
To create a stable, representative government in Baghdad, we need to show total
commitment to quelling a motley insurgency that includes remnants of Saddam's
security and intelligence services, disgruntled Sunnis, and foreign jihadists.
Yet the timing of the administration's troop cuts seems dictated by the campaign
calendar, not strategy.
America has about six months to break the resistance and give the new Iraqi government
a fighting chance to survive. It would help if our leaders stopped casting anxious
glances toward the exits.