Un­der­re­ported signs of vic­tory in Iraq

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

It has be­come oblig­a­tory for both pro- and an­ti­war com­men­ta­tors to never men­tion the pos­si­bil­ity of vic­tory in Iraq. The most that an­ti­war peo­ple will ad­mit is that the surge has gained a tem­po­rary mil­i­tary ad­van­tage in a war that can­not be won mil­i­tar­ily. The most prowar com­men­ta­tors will claim is that they see the pos­si­bil­ity of “suc­cess” per­haps, maybe, some­day, some­how.

But as of Vet­er­ans Day 2007, I think one can claim a very real ex­pec­ta­tion that next year the world may see a gen­uine, old-fash­ioned vic­tory in the Iraq War. In five years we will have over­turned Sad­dam’s gov­ern­ment, killed, cap­tured or driven out of coun­try al­most all al Qaeda ter­ror­ists, sup­pressed the vi­o­lent Shi’ite mili­tias and in­duced the Sunni tribal lead­ers and their peo­ple to shun re­sis­tance and send their sons into the army and po­lice and seek peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of dis­putes. And we will have stood up a mul­ti­sec­tar­ian, trib­ally in­clu­sive army ca­pa­ble of main­tain­ing the peace that our troops es­tab­lished.

The re­ports com­ing out of Iraq in the last month sug­gest that we are not yet there — but al­most. As The Wash­ing­ton Times sum­ma­rized last week: “the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported: ‘Twi­light brings traf­fic jams to the main shop­ping dis­trict of this once-af­flu­ent cor­ner of Bagh­dad, and hun­dreds of peo­ple stroll past well-stocked veg­etable stands, bak­eries and butcher shops. To many in Amariyah, it seems lit­tle short of a mir­a­cle.’ Ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post: ‘The num­ber of at­tacks against U.S. sol­diers has fallen to lev­els not seen since be­fore the Fe­bru­ary 2006 bomb­ing of a Shi’ite shrine in Sa­marra that touched off waves of sec­tar­ian killing . . . The death toll for Amer­i­can troops in Oc­to­ber fell to 39, the low­est level since March 2006.’”

And last week, the New York Times noted: “Amer­i­can forces have routed al Qaeda in Me­sopotamia, the Iraqi mil­i­tant net­work, from ev­ery neigh­bor­hood in Bagh­dad, a top Amer­i­can gen­eral said to­day, al­low­ing Amer­i­can troops in­volved in the ‘surge’ to depart as planned.” In­vestor’s Busi­ness Daily as­sessed: Many mil­i­tary an­a­lysts — in­clud­ing some who don’t sup­port the war — have con­cluded that the U.S. and its al­lies are on the verge of win­ning.

Over the Nov. 10-11 week­end, Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki said that vi­o­lence be­tween Sun­nis and Shi’ites has nearly dis­ap­peared from Bagh­dad, with ter­ror­ist bomb­ing down 77 per­cent. This was con­firmed by Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, com­man­der of U.S. forces south of the cap­i­tal: “If we didn’t have so many Iraqi peo­ple com­ing for­ward to help, I’d think this is a flash in the pan. But that is just not the case.”

All of this is the re­sult of the most un­der­re­ported suc­cess­ful mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion since the in­ven­tion of the tele­graph. (For a de­tailed ac­count of Gen. David Pe­traeus’s, and Gen. Ray­mond Odierno’s coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paign see Kim­berly Ka­gan’s metic­u­lous ar­ti­cle in the Weekly Stan­dard.) But the point to take away from the surge is that, though a bril­liant mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion, it was never just a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion. Rather it de­vel­oped a po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­fra­struc­ture that is per­mit­ting lo­cal­level rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. We are cre­at­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­er­nance from the bot­tom up — not from the Green Zone down. De­spite a frail and in­ept na­tional gov­ern­ment, the peo­ple in the towns and prov­inces (un­der the tute­lage of the U.S. mil­i­tary) seem to be form­ing or­der out of the chaos.

The vic­tory will not have come cheap. Ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press 3,861 Amer­i­can troops have been killed in Iraq. On Nov. 11 I at­tended a Vet­er­ans Day com­mem­o­ra­tion at the Dal­las-Fort Worth Na­tional Ceme­tery. My only role there was as hus­band of the key­note speaker. Af­ter the for­mal cer­e­monies, as we were chat­ting with peo­ple, I had a con­ver­sa­tion with a for­mer Marine. He was there with his eight-year-old son. He ex­plained that his 21-year-old — the old­est of his four sons — had been killed in com­bat in Iraq just a cou­ple of months ago.

He showed us a pic­ture of his fallen son. He was a good-look­ing, open-faced kid with a win­ning grin lean­ing out of his ar­mored ve­hi­cle. He died lead­ing his men to the sound of the guns. He is now buried there in that cen­tral Texas vet­eran’s ceme­tery where on Nov. 11 a hard wind blew, snap­ping the many Old Glo­ries that stood sen­try for our fallen war­riors. And the eight-year-old — who idolized his fallen big brother — can hardly wait to be old enough to join up to fin­ish his brother’s job. (Of course, we know that in this world, that job of war­rior will never be done — as the post­war pe­riod ever glides seam­lessly into the new pre­war pe­riod.) Stand­ing there sur­rounded by thou­sands of vet­er­ans’ grave stones, and look­ing into the faces of the be­reaved, I think of th­ese young he­roes who to­day are mak­ing vic­tory in Iraq pos­si­ble what Ron­ald Rea­gan said of and to the men who climbed the cliffs at Nor­mandy’s Pointe de Hoc (quot­ing Stephen Spen­der): “You are men who in your lives fought for life — and left the vivid air signed with your honor.”

Tony Blank­ley is ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent for global pub­lic af­fairs at Edel­man In­ter­na­tional. He is also a visit­ing se­nior fel­low at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

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