TCS Daily

Date With Destiny

By Greg Buete - April 8, 2004 12:00 AM

If President Bush is not careful the heightened attacks in Iraq could exploit American politics in the same manner the terrorist attacks in Madrid exploited the Spanish political climate.

The Madrid bombers took advantage of a political objective which the Spanish Socialist Party unwittingly delivered to them by running on a platform to remove Spanish troops from Iraq. Similarly, the escalated insurrection in Iraq is designed to force the United States to delay the date the coalition authorities transfer power to the fledgling Iraqi government. As it was in Spain, many political leaders have become the useful idiots for the terrorists. The Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is leading the charge.

"I think they [the Bush administration] wanted to get the troops out, get the transfer out of the way as fast as possible without regard to the stability of Iraq," said Kerry, "It is a mistake to set an arbitrary date and I hope that date has nothing to do with the elections here in the United States."

An arbitrary date? Tell that to Abu Zarqawi and other terrorists opposed to
Iraq's democratic transition. What we're witnessing in Fallujah and Ramadi is the execution of Zarqawi's playbook -- in the form of a letter addressing future insurgent strategy. In this letter, captured by Kurdish soldiers, Zarqawi fretted that time is running out for the insurgency. In response, Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist linked to al Qaeda, urged sparking a civil war between Iraq's Shia and Sunni Muslims, and most importantly, to do so before June 30, the date the US officially begins its transition of power to Iraq. At that point, Zarqawi noted, any further insurgency will be seen as a fight against fellow Muslims instead of a fight against America.

Zarqawi said, "...if we fight them [Shia], that will be difficult because there will be a schism between us and the people of the region. How can we kill their cousins and sons and under what pretext, after the Americans start withdrawing? The Americans will continue to control from their bases, but the sons of this land will be the authority. This is the democracy, we will have no pretext."

Were we to follow the leadership of John Kerry, and push back our transfer date, we would be delivering a gift-wrapped package to the promoters of chaos and instability in Iraq, just as the Spanish population delivered them a victory by capitulating to terror.

It is imperative that coalition authorities stay the course. But in a repeat of last summer, armchair strategists are misdiagnosing the issue. With every milestone achieved putting more Iraqis in control, the insurgent factions -- whether former Saddam loyalists, Iranian-supported Shiite extremists or al Qaeda network terrorists -- lose ground. They are threatened by the June 30 transition date because on that day forward an insurgent attack is no longer against "occupiers" but against Muslims. Their argument and support will erode.

Sen. Kerry isn't alone, unfortunately. Over the weekend two frequent Republican critics of the president, Senators Richard Lugar and John McCain (but of course!), joined Democratic Senator Joe Biden in advocating moving the transition date. The issue is thus added to the rest of the red herrings that never die in the course of this war: The most notable others being "more troops required" and a lack of an "international face" in Iraq.

If the military wanted more troops in Iraq they'd get them. The ranking general in Iraq, John Abizaid, said last year that he had enough "boots on the ground." His stance hasn't changed to this day, although Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has made it clear that if Abizaid wants troops he's got them. Replenishing exhausted forces would be one thing, but, with additional forces Abizaid understands it's not necessarily troop quantity, but what you do with them, that matters.

Nonetheless, Sen. Biden claimed that the US could either deploy a "fairly large" addition of troops to Iraq or the situation would begin to resemble "another Vietnam." Sen. McCain agreed, adding, "The time for hand-wringing is over."

Talk about hand-wringing: It's Sens. McCain, Biden and Hagel wringing hands, making infantile and egregious comparisons to "Vietnam!", and displaying a lack of confidence in the ability of our military. On the contrary, adding additional forces to Iraq would make it more like Vietnam, not less. The only allusion to Vietnam worth a salt is that a big reason Vietnam was lost was because politicians micromanaged military strategy in a fashion these senators pursue. We sent half a million soldiers into the jungles and still lost. So these senators, especially Sen. McCain, should not for a second more confuse troop size with victory.

Adding to the American presence in Iraq plays to the hand of the insurgency. It undermines the trust of the common Iraqi who believes the promise that our soldiers will eventually leave them to their own rule.

A victory in Iraq and our exit strategy from Iraq depend solely on empowering Iraqis so they can competently run their government and provide security to their people. Sure, it's a tough haul. But one of the common misconceptions about the transition, which so many seem to perpetuate, is that the US military is going to suddenly evacuate on June 30, allowing an ill-prepared Iraqi security force to be eaten by the insurgent wolves. That's simply not going to happen; the US military will be in Iraq for some time, gradually incorporating Iraqis into the security operations.

This is not to dismiss Iraq's problems or our shortcomings in dealing with them. The Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is dangerous, as is the potential of his movement. The coalition forces must act quickly to crush it. But he represents a meager portion of his community, and speaks no more for every Shiite than Osama bin Laden speaks for every Muslim. Influential Shiites, including Iyad Allawi, the head of the Iraqi council's security committee, and Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the de facto leader of Iraq's Shiite community, were both critical of Sadr's aggression.

This exaggerated fear of acting too aggressively that breeds hesitancy is the source of all of our problems in Iraq. Because of our Western worry that tough action might unintentionally spark more hostility we never fully addressed the insurgency. Now, after months of dilly-dallying we appear dedicated to draining the Sunni swamp that should have been cleared in April 2003.

This fear now persuades many of our leaders to question the transition date, and indirectly then, the entire point of the war. With it so near it would be foolish to change this date, especially in response to insurgent attacks. Predictably, insurgents would simply escalate attacks each time the new date approached, and in turn the hand-wringer's brigade would react in Pavlovian fashion and torture our ears with demands that only strengthen our enemy. Once and for all, we must overcome this fear. And that starts with keeping our date to transition power in Iraq.

Greg Buete recently wrote for TCS about earlier insurgencies in Iraq.


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