Day By Day

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Keep Killing the Killers?

Nibras Kazimi has a very interesting piece in the New York Sun in which he discusses changes taking place in the Iraq war. The key graf:

The wider Sunni insurgency — the groups beyond Al Qaeda — is being slowly, and surely, defeated. The average insurgent today feels demoralized, disillusioned, and hunted. Those who have not been captured yet are opting for a quieter life outside of Iraq. Al Qaeda continues to grow for the time being as it cannibalizes the other insurgent groups and absorbs their most radical and hardcore fringes into its fold. The Baathists, who had been critical in spurring the initial insurgency, are becoming less and less relevant, and are drifting without a clear purpose following the hanging of their idol, Saddam Hussein. Rounding out this changing landscape is that Al Qaeda itself is getting a serious beating as the Americans improve in intelligence gathering and partner with more reliable Iraqi forces.

In other words, battling the insurgency now essentially means battling Al Qaeda. This is a major accomplishment.

This is an important point. The Sunni hardliners, who initiated the insurgency, are now defeated and are now beginning to look to their former antagonists for protection against Shiite militias. The current surge is geared toward providing that protection.

And here's where Kazimi's analysis gets really interesting.

In many ways, the timing of this turnaround was inadvertent, coming at the height of political and bureaucratic mismanagement in Washington and Baghdad. A number of factors contributed to this turnaround, but most important was sustained, stay-the-course counterinsurgency pressure. At the end of the day, more insurgents were ending up dead or behind bars, which generated among them a sense of despair and a feeling that the insurgency was a dead end.
In other words, all the bureaucratic and technical adjustments being contemplated and implemented in Washington are not particularly important -- what matters is to keep killing the killers until they realize their fate.

He has little faith in General Petraeus. He's a thinker, not a killer, and killing is what is needed.

General David Petraeus, whom President Bush has tasked to quell the insurgency, spent the last year and a half updating the U.S. Army and Marine Corps's field manual for counterinsurgency. There's plenty of fancy theory there, as well as case studies from Iraq. I don't know how much of the new manual is informed by General Petraeus' two notable failures in Iraq: building a brittle edifice of government in Mosul that collapsed at the first challenging puff, and the inadequate training and equipping of the Iraqi army due to corruption and mismanagement.

General Petraeus walked away from those failures unscathed and hence unaccountable. He re-enters the picture with major expectations. Most commentators, especially those who begrudge attributing any success to Mr. Bush, will lionize the general as he takes credit for this turnaround and speeds it up. Let's hope that he has enough sense to allow what works to keep working and to improve on it, rather than trying to put his own stamp on things and test out the theories he's developed.

This is a seductively simplistic point of view and, in the long term, to be sure, killing the killers will be effective -- it worked for Jenghis Kahn and for Stalin..., Hitler not so much. But the political and bureaucratic will to pursue such a course of action over a long term simply isn't there. However effective such tactics may have been in the past, they are no longer an option, at least not for any Western power.

He may be right. Perhaps General Petraeus is too sophisticated and too educated a man for the job, but dammit, he's all we have. If he fails the best hope for reform in the Middle East will have gone with him.

Read the article here.

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