April 21, 2004 [LINK]

The Counterattack: Now what?

The awful wave of guerrilla attacks and suicide bombings in Iraq over the past few weeks have unnerved many Americans who blithely assumed we would be welcomed as liberators. The comparisons many people have made between this surge of violence and the Tet Offensive in Vietnam are not very apt, since the scale in the former episode was much larger, with hundreds of deaths daily, and control of most major South Vietnamese cities remaining in doubt for a week or more. True, Coalition forces have proved to be insufficient to maintain complete control of Iraqi cities, but there is no danger that they will be pushed out. Ironically, the Tet analogy is very apt in highlighting the psychological angle, which is of supreme importance in this war: If enough Americans are convinced that we are losing, then we will have lost. President Bush's press conference last week started and closed on a pretty good note, but there was one distressing interlude of uncertain stammering, when he was asked what mistakes he thought he had made in the war, and he said couldn't think of any. The President should have nothing to be ashamed of in admitting he wasn't as attuned to terrorist threats before September 11 as he wished he had been. I think any decent person in his shoes would feel awful about not having paid closer attention to reports about Al Qaeda's intentions. If he doesn't start speaking in a more candid fashion about his own decision-making, and about the need for Americans to make big sacrifices in the war against Arab-Islamic fascism (which he has yet to identify as such, unfortunately), he may well lose the election to Senator Kerry.

So what should Bush do differently in Iraq now? I say move ahead with the plan to transfer sovereign authority to Iraqis by June 30, come hell or high water. Dare the Iraqi leaders to step up to the plate and work out their differences among each other right away, or else face sheer chaos for months and years to come. Of course, U.S. troops will be present in Iraq for years, but the sooner we let go of formal governing responsibilities, the less excuse the ultra-nationalists in Iraq and neighboring countries will have for waging "war" against us. Which reminds me of another lame parallel often made with Vietnam: We should NOT worry about trying to win "the hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people, or of Arabs in general. Their hatred, resentment, and suspicion of the U.S. and Western Civilization is so deep at this point that no appeal to reason is even remotely possible. The best we can really hope for is to convince enough of them that their own interests lie in cooperating with us and distancing themselves from terrorism. I am under no illusions about this conflict ending any time soon, and the ugliness and despair are likely to get worse before they get better. ("Blood, toil, sweat, and tears...") Whatever kind of regime eventually emerges in Iraq, democratic or not, our bottom line has to be no safe haven for terrorism.

NOTE: This is a "post facto" blog post, taken from the pre-November 2004 archives.