March 11, 2007

If America Wins In Iraq And No One Reports It, Will It Make A Difference?

The Washington Post, among other news outlets, made a stink last week about the lack of a publicly-stated Plan B in the event the surge strategy failed to make a difference in Iraq. However, with preliminary indications showing success, Robert Kagan wonders whether journalists have a Plan B for themselves:

Leading journalists have been reporting for some time that the war was hopeless, a fiasco that could not be salvaged by more troops and a new counterinsurgency strategy. The conventional wisdom in December held that sending more troops was politically impossible after the antiwar tenor of the midterm elections. It was practically impossible because the extra troops didn't exist. Even if the troops did exist, they could not make a difference.

Four months later, the once insurmountable political opposition has been surmounted. The nonexistent troops are flowing into Iraq. And though it is still early and horrible acts of violence continue, there is substantial evidence that the new counterinsurgency strategy, backed by the infusion of new forces, is having a significant effect. ...

Apparently some American journalists see the difference. NBC's Brian Williams recently reported a dramatic change in Ramadi since his previous visit. The city was safer; the airport more secure. The new American strategy of "getting out, decentralizing, going into the neighborhoods, grabbing a toehold, telling the enemy we're here, start talking to the locals -- that is having an obvious and palpable effect." U.S. soldiers forged agreements with local religious leaders and pushed al-Qaeda back -- a trend other observers have noted in some Sunni-dominated areas. The result, Williams said, is that "the war has changed."

It is no coincidence that as the mood and the reality have shifted, political currents have shifted as well. A national agreement on sharing oil revenue appears on its way to approval. The Interior Ministry has been purged of corrupt officials and of many suspected of torture and brutality. And cracks are appearing in the Shiite governing coalition -- a good sign, given that the rock-solid unity was both the product and cause of growing sectarian violence.

The defeatists have received large boosts from journalists all too willing to write about the successes of the insurgents but mostly silent on the successes of the Coalition. This may have been especially true in 2006, which did not go well for the Coalition, but got portrayed as an unmitigated failure in the American media during the 2006 election campaign. It made little difference in the end -- the Republicans did more to ensure their defeat domestically than anything that happened in Iraq -- but the result has left the media screeching like harpies that the mission in Iraq is doomed. Democratic leadership has taken the ball and wants to run with it in Congress, but only if they can do so without actually accepting responsibility for the retreat they demand.

If the surge succeeds, journalists won't be the only people who need a Plan B.

Wars occasionally produce negative, short-term results -- occasionally as in "frequently". The point of a war isn't to win every gun battle and force a surrender within 30 minutes. Iraq is not Grenada, and if it were, it wouldn't matter nearly as much to our national interests and global security.

The mission in Iraq is critical, and failure fatal. The collapse of Iraq would create a terrorist haven exponentially more dangerous than Somalia or Afghanistan, with oil revenues gorging terrorists on the hard currency they need to launch attacks all over the world. That's the reality now, the one we have to face, and that means we have to find ways to defeat the insurgencies and allow the elected, representative Iraqi government to gain enough strength to take control on their own.

Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy seems to be showing remarkable results. Talking about defeat and retreat while we have not finished playing out our hand would represent an unprecedent capitulation by the US to an enemy in the field -- and not an enemy like Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, or the Soviets, with a military that should frighten us -- but an enemy that has so little support and so few combatants that they dare not show their face to American troops in the streets of their own cities.

Plan B should be victory by another means, not defeat by surrender to terrorists.


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