Arthur Herman, in Commentary, finds defeatism shaping our outlook on the war at home.
To the student of counterinsurgency warfare, the war in Iraq has reached a critical but dismally familiar stage.
On the one hand, events in that country have taken a more hopeful direction in recent months. Operations in the city of Najaf in January presaged a more effective burden-sharing between American and Iraqi troops than in the past. The opening moves of the so-called â€œsurgeâ€ in Baghdad, involving increased American patrols and the steady addition of more than 21,000 ground troops, have begun to sweep Shiite militias from the streets, while their leader, Moqtada al Sadr, has gone to ground. Above all, the appointment of Lieutenant General David Petraeus, the author of the U.S. Armyâ€™s latest counterinsurgency field manual, as commander of American ground forces in Iraq bespeaks the Pentagonâ€™s conviction that what we need to confront the Iraq insurgency is not more high-tech firepower but the time-tested methods of unconventional or â€œfourth-generationâ€ warfare.
In Washington, on the other hand, among the nationâ€™s political class, the growing consensus is that the war in Iraq is not only not winnable but as good as lostâ€”Congressman Henry Waxman of California, for one, has proclaimed that the war is lost. Politicians who initially backed the effort, like Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Joseph Biden, and Republican Congressmen Walter Jones and Tom Davis, have been busily backing away or out, insisting that Iraq has descended into civil war and that Americans are helpless to shape events militarily. A growing number, like Congressman John Murtha, even suggest that the American presence is making matters worse. The Democratic party has devoted much internal discussion to whether and how to restrict the Presidentâ€™s ability to carry out even the present counterinsurgency effort.
In short, if the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis still continues and is showing signs of improvement, the battle for the hearts and minds of Congress, or at least of the Democratic majority, seems to be all but over.
But the war is not yet lost, and a new approach to dealing with the insurgency is actually underway, and it is still possible for America to win.
on August 1, 1956, a French lieutenant colonel of Tunisian descent named David Galula had taken command of the mountainous and rebel-infested Aissa Mimoun area of Kabylia. To the FLNâ€™s unconventional mode of warfare, Galula responded with unconventional methods of his own. These proved so successful so quickly that they were soon adopted by French commanders in other parts of Algeria. …
By January 1960, the war that many had considered lost three years earlier was virtually won.
Galulaâ€™s subsequent book, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, laid out the blueprint for success in this form of warfare. From the start, Galula had discarded the assumptions governing conventional conflicts. A decisive battlefield victory of the kind familiar from World War II, he saw, would never work against indigenous, loosely organized, but deeply committed insurgencies …
Galula grasped that the new form of warfare had reversed the conventional relationship in war between combatant and civilian. No longer bystanders or useful adjuncts to the war effort, as in World War II, civilians were the critical determinants of success or failure. Without the help or at least the passive acquiescence of the local population, the government would be doomed. In a crucial sense, it did not matter how many guerrillas were killed, or how many regular soldiers were on the ground; the center of gravity was the opinion of the local community.
Thus, the key to success lay in bringing to the surface the portion of the populace that hated the guerrillas, and then turning that minority into a majority by a combination of political, social, and cultural initiatives …
As recently as two years ago, Galulaâ€™s book was virtually unknown in Pentagon circles. Today it has become the bible of American counterinsurgency thinkers like General Petraeus.
Highly recommended. Read the whole thing.
Hat tip to John R. Finch.