War escalates and spreads
The successful capture of Fallujah by U.S. forces last month was followed by terrorist counterattacks in other parts of Iraq. Today a suicide terrorist squad breached the outer perimeter of the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, marking a possible step toward increased coordination among terrorist groups that could cause the war to spill across Iraq's borders. Many war critics feel the apparent chaos vindicates their position, which is of course exactly what the terrorists want them to feel. Max Boot provided a confident yet sober perspective last week in the latimes.com, "What We Won in Fallouja":
Thus, for all their success in Fallouja, we should not expect U.S. troops to completely pacify Iraq anytime soon. What they can do -- what they are doing -- is to keep the insurgents from derailing a political process that, one hopes, will soon result in the creation of a legitimate government that can field indigenous security forces and defend itself.
In other words, no one should be under any illusion about an imminent return to "normalcy" in Iraq, whatever that is. The terrorist counterattacks are obvously aimed at getting back the momentum after their base of operations in Fallujah was dismantled. In Mosul, which is home to Kurds as well as Sunni Arabs, U.S. forces had to restore order after most Iraqi police fled their posts. That was a worrisome indicator that "Iraqicization" may be stalling, one of the few genuine parallels between this war and Vietnam. In the end, if Iraqi leaders don't step up to the plate and take charge, there is not much we can do about it. Ironically, President Bush's original skepticism about Clintonian "nation building" (or "state building," more accurately) would be validated. Government authority cannot be willed into existence from the outside.
These difficulties do not by any means signify the war has become a hopeless quagmire, but they are clear signs that American forces are stretched to the limit. No one doubts that the violence will probably get worse before it gets better, and the Pentagon announced that 12,000 additional U.S. troops will be sent to Iraq to provide extra security for the elections scheduled for late January. This will raise the total U.S. force commitment to 150,000, the highest since the invasion began in March 2003; see washingtonpost.com. Bush has consistently ruled out any resort to drafting soldiers, and indeed that is not necessary or appropriate at this time. If he does not find some equivalent manner of exerting force in response to the terrorist upsurge, however, we will be back to where we were a few months ago. It is imperative that we make clear, concrete advances (such as holding elections on schedule, whether the Sunnis are ready or not) in order to maintain the vital psychological edge. Otherwise, terrorists may start making inroads in nearby fence-sitting countries with weak governments.
Smaller-scale military advances are described by W. Thomas Smith Jr. in the nationalreview.com. In Operation "Plymouth Rock" (launched during Thanksgiving week), U.S. and Coalition forces are employing new, highly adaptive tactics in the "Triangle of Death" south of Baghdad. They target particular enemy strongholds based on new intelligence gleaned from previous raids, which then provides information for the next raid on the next town, and so on. What looks to casual observers as endless, random violence is, in fact, bearing fruit, slowly but surely.
Sixty three years ago today, hundreds of Japanese carrier-based planes bombed Pearl Harbor, destroying most of the U.S. Pacific fleet. It's a good thing the American people back then had enough gumption and determination to believe they could manage to resist the fascist onslaught long enough to rebuild and eventually win the war. What about us?