Questionable Assumptions

At the end of November, the Bush administration issued a 35-page document titled, “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.” The new white paper does not represent a change of strategy: it says at the outset, “The following document articulates the broad strategy the President set forth in 2003 . . .” But it does offer an authoritative statement of the administration’s position and is thus worth careful consideration.

Like most official documents, it spreads a small amount of substance over a large number of pages. But if we want to analyze it from a military perspective, the key is to be found on page 18, under the subhead, “The Security Track in Detail.” There, it says, “The security track is based on six core assumptions (emphasis in original).” Why is this key? Because if core assumptions are wrong, everything that follows from them is likely to be wrong, too.

Let’s take a look at each:

o First, the terrorists, Saddamists, and rejectionists do not have the manpower or firepower to achieve a military victory over the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. They can win only if we surrender.

This reduces “military victory” to childish simplicity, effectively defining it as winning a game of King of the Hill. That is not how guerilla war works. Nor does it end in anyone’s formal surrender. In order to achieve eventual military victory, all the guerillas have to do is continue the fight, which means finding ways to hit us without exposing themselves to annihilation. So far, they have proven rather good at doing that.

o Second, our own political will is steadfast and will allow America to keep troops in Iraq – – to fight terrorists while training and mentoring Iraqi forces – – until the mission is done, increasing or decreasing troop levels only as conditions warrant.

Here, the reality gap could not be more evident. America’s political will to support an apparently endless war in Iraq is in free-fall, both on Capitol Hill and among the public.

o Third, progress on the political front will improve the intelligence picture by helping distinguish those who can be won over to support the new Iraqi state from the terrorists and insurgents who must either be killed or captured, detained and prosecuted.

This fails on at least three counts. First, “progress on the political front” so far amounts to creating a Kurdish-Shiite government bitterly hostile to Iraq’s Sunnis, which is hardly likely to lead Sunnis to provide U.S. forces with better intelligence. Second, our own intelligence operation remains marginal at best in grasping the complexities of Iraqi society. And third, such intelligence is only useful if we use it to try to split the Baathist insurgents from the jihadis, while the white paper suggests we will continue to lump them together as enemies we must fight.

o Fourth, the training, equipping, and mentoring of Iraqi Security Forces will produce an army and police force capable of independently providing security and maintaining public order in Iraq.

What the administration calls the Iraqi army and police force is largely Kurdish and Shiite militiamen who are taking government paychecks and wearing government uniforms. Their loyalty is not to the Iraqi government we have established but to the leaders of their militias, and their purpose is not to uphold a state but to wage a civil war against Iraqi Sunnis, in revenge for what the Sunnis did to them under Saddam. Most of the Iraqi state security apparatus is a fiction, because it is not under the actual control of the state.

o Fifth, regional meddling and infiltrations can be contained and/or neutralized.

The information I am getting suggests that Iranian meddling and infiltration in Iraq is massive and growing, and is also encouraged and facilitated by many of the Shiite elements in the Iraqi government. The Persian camel has not just his nose but his hump already in the tent. Many of my sources suggest that a lot of the insurgency we attribute to Sunnis is actually Iranian-supported if not Iranian-controlled.

o Sixth, while we can help, assist, and train, Iraqis will ultimately be the ones to eliminate their security threats over the long term.

Not only does this ignore the fact that most of those security threats are made up of Iraqis, it misses the all-important fact that whatever we “help, assist, and train” automatically loses its legitimacy because of our involvement. Indeed, nowhere does the white paper come to grips with this central problem, namely that as an invader and occupier, we cannot confer legitimacy on anything. On the contrary, we have the reverse Midas touch; when it comes to legitimacy, that all-important factor in Fourth Generation war, anything we touch turns to crap.

There is an old military saying that “assume” makes an ass of you and me. In this case, the Bush administration has explicitly based its “security track” in Iraq on six assumptions, not one of which is self-evident. If we accept those assumptions, what would that make us?



WILLIAM S. LIND, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.