No issue has so shaped America's recent politics or defined its present role in the world as the Iraq War. NR asked a symposium of military experts, geopolitical thinkers, Middle East scholars, and conservative writers the two paramount questions: Are we winning; and, if not, how can we? Here is what they had to say.
[Other commentators are: David Frum, Newt Gingrich, Mark Helprin, Lawrence F. Kaplan, Robert D. Kaplan, Michael Ledeen, Ralph Peters, Mark Steyn, and Bernard Trainor].
The U.S. is losing in Iraq because American politicians and the general public have not decided they want or need to win. Many congressmen look at Iraq through the lens of the 2006 election: They care neither how their words embolden the enemy nor how their grandstanding impacts Iraq. Meanwhile, many commentators have cast accuracy aside to cater to, and cash in on, public ennui.
Iraqis are now as pessimistic as they have ever been. Corruption and organized crime run rampant. True, some metrics are positive: Oil production is on the rebound, shops are opening, agricultural production is up, and defense-ministry forces are increasingly trained and competent. But the corrupt police are running rampant.
While U.S. diplomats have become masters of their cubicles, Iranians have become masters of Iraq. We hold sway over the Green Zone; they hold sway over the rest of the country. Their dominion includes, increasingly, Kurdistan. Why? Because they have provided overwhelming force, patronage, and staying power.
Militias exist to impose through force what they cannot win through the ballot box. Iran exerts its influence through militias, and the U.S. fails to counter them. Left alone, they metastasize. While USAID takes weeks to allocate a paperclip, and months more to study its impact, the militias create elaborate charities to establish themselves in society. Thus Iran is replicating the Hezbollah strategy. It is no accident that Iran's current ambassador to Iraq was formerly Tehran's liaison to the Lebanese terrorist group.
How to win? We're suckers if we trust Iran. In Iraq, we need to cut the supply lines to the militias, roll up Iranian intelligence, and replace Iranian charities with our own patronage. We've got to treat the commanders of Iran's revolutionary guard as the combatants they are. If imposing firm demands pushes Iran toward a fight, we cannot shrink from it. In the Middle East, projecting weakness leads to defeat. Unfortunately, the Rice State Department is all about weakness.
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of The Middle East Quarterly.