September 10, 2007
Vanquishing Al Qaeda
Doesnt Mean We Win in Iraq
For the small
minority of Americans who support the continuation/escalation of the war
in Iraq, there really are only two acceptable opinions on the current
"surge": Either "the surge is working," or "it's too early to tell. You
really should wait for Gen. Petreaus." Those opining that the surge
isn't working at all, of course, are told not to pre-judge, but those
holding the former take are free to assume away.
Gen. David Petreaus.,
newly installed as the U.S. commander in Iraq earlier this year, will
give his long-awaited report to Congress on the surge this week. He
will, according to The New York Times on Friday, speak about the
successes the surge has created in reducing violence and dealing
setbacks to Al Qaeda in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province. He is also
expected to approve a small pull-back, starting in January.
How should we react
to this complex, multifaceted situation? If you believe some Republicans
and a new non-profit called Freedom's Watch, it's simple: It's us
against the terrorists, we're starting to win and the choice is between
"victory" and the "surrender" favored by the Democrats. Republican
presidential candidates, including John McCain and Rudy Giuliani,
discuss Iraq with the circular argument that we're going to win because
we have to win, and we have to win because we're going to win.
Freedom's Watch also
touts a survey arguing that 49 percent of Americans now believe that
"the surge is working" while 45 percent believe it isn't, as though the
perceptions of people half a world away have any bearing on the fact of
whether it is or not.
Pundits of the right
have been even more insufferable, with Bill Kristol arguing in the
Weekly Standard that not only are we obviously winning in Iraq, but
that critics of the war know that we're winning and are being dishonest
by arguing otherwise.
And then there's the
curious case of the Kagans: Neoconservative strategist Fred Kagan was an
architect of the surge. Since its implementation, various op-eds have
appeared, advocating same surge, by Kagan's wife, brother and Kagan
himself, not always with the disclosure of the Kagan connection to the
surge's origin. As blogger Matthew Yglesias joked, "If only the whole
world were made up of members of the Kagan family, then maybe George W.
Bush would be a really popular president."
All of these
arguments made the erroneous assumption, likely prevalent among casual
observers, that the war in Iraq boils down to "us vs. Al Qaeda," and
that once Al Qaeda is defeated, the war will be over. But that's really
far from the case. In fact, a piece published last week by Andrew
Tilghman in Washington Monthly argues that Al Qaeda is actually
only "2 percent to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency," and, in the grand
scheme of things, a very small part of the problem in Iraq.
We're fighting Al
Qaeda, and if the pro-surge faction is right, we're winning. That's
wonderful, and I'm glad it's happening. I wish Al Qaeda would disappear
from Iraq and every other country immediately. But if they did,
would that mean that we had "won" the war in Iraq? No. There would still
be multiple insurgencies, a civil war with mass sectarian violence both
between and among Sunnis and Shiites, no central government of any
significance and a significant breakdown in law and order. And don't
forget there was barely an Al Qaeda presence in Iraq before the war.
So we're really just fighting to get back to somewhere near where we
The Bushes and
Freedom Watches and various Kagans all talk about "victory" in Iraq. But
while a defeat of Al Qaeda would certainly be great, how exactly will we
get there? We're no closer to a political solution than we were a year
I'm not saying I'm
for an immediate withdrawal. We have obligations to the Iraqis, and we
can't walk away from them abruptly. But clearly, the political will
isn't there, our troops are overextended and we're not going to
accomplish what we set out to do liberal democracy in Iraq. We need to
find a way to wrap it up.
testify beginning Monday, and we should listen to and consider his
recommendations. But it's important to note that there is a much bigger
war going on than the battle against Al Qaeda. The latter war may be
won, the former one is a long, long way from resolution.
© 2007 North Star Writers
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