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The surrender strategy in Iraq
Scripps Howard News Service


January 04, 2007
Thursday PM

Maybe a troop surge in Iraq will do little to win the war there, at least in and of itself, but the fierce opposition to the idea strikes me as less motivated by a desire to win by another strategy than a desire to get out, no matter what.

One of the most persistent criticisms of President Bush's conduct of the war, after all, is that he has failed to devote enough troops to the cause, and much of that criticism has come from many of the same people now insisting that increased manpower now will not help - that it will simply get more Americans killed to no avail.

But wasn't the same argument available about troop levels earlier, even if conditions have greatly changed? Why would more troops have worked then to prevent increases in the killing by suicide bombers but would not work to check this mayhem now?

And - here's the crucial question if you deny you're really preaching surrender - why would anyone suppose it a better strategy to try to scare the Iraqi government into doing something it's likely incapable of doing anytime soon?

That's basically the alternative being proposed by the Iraqi Study Group and many of the administration's critics. The theory is that the Iraqi government could do far more to quell the violence soon if it only would, but that it really doesn't want to, least of all when the majority Shiites are striking back at Sunnis. If the United States announces it will be evacuating most troops in accordance with a short timetable in the absence of significant progress, the Iraqis who have been our allies will shape up, and if they don't, too bad for them.

There seem to me to be all sorts of suspect assumptions here, along with a high degree of cynicism. While the Iraqi government has been laggard in building up its police and military forces, there are large numbers of deeply cultural and other reasons for the fact besides the idea that they just don't have to as long as the U.S. hangs around in substantial enough numbers to handle things. No doubt many in the government are happy that their Shiite brethren are striking back cruelly at Sunni families and neighborhoods, but will they put the clamps on once they know the United States might otherwise be heading home soon? I truly doubt it.

My guess is that the people recommending some version or the other of a timetable also have their doubts but think that the unmet demand by the Iraqi government would give us a rationale for leaving with our credibility roughly intact, and at the very least, save American lives.

Here, however, is what many of the most astute studies of the war say: If we leave without having achieved a high measure of stability, we will likely unleash genocide, worsen what is already a frightening situation in the Middle East and make it more likely that terrorists will strike us on our own soil, taking large numbers of American lives by other means. Giving up will not keep us safe.

There are, I think, preferable courses of action that we get to by understanding at least two major issues. One is that we can win with sufficient will. In both the Civil War and World War II, the United States was faced with difficulties many times greater than we face in Iraq, with resources not nearly what we have relative to the murderers we now face and nevertheless prevailed because of determined, unflagging leadership.

The other issue is that our difficulties in Iraq are largely a consequence of a form of warfare we have never faced in the past in exactly the same combination - our civilian-disguised enemies hide in the populace, wage most of their warfare on fellow civilians, are equipped with modern explosives and far from being deterred by a fear of death, actually seek it out.

You beat them, as Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, has argued, by adapting, changing the rules of engagement - eliminating militia heads if they don't disband, shoot on sight anyone aiding terrorists in their bombing and more - while also possibly increasing troop numbers significantly for a prolonged period of time. It might also be crucial to deal with ages-old enmities by creating a loose federation of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish states.

Most of all, we have to decide to be victorious. This is, finally, not a war we lose unless we choose to.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)

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