“Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing,” wrote Rumsfeld a year ago. “Is our current situation such that ‘the harder we work, the behinder we get’?” We now have metrics to work with. A year ago, Gen. John Abizaid estimated there were 5,000 enemy fighters. After capturing and killing thousands, officials now estimate there are 20,000 enemy. A year ago, there were two dozen attacks every day on coalition forces. According to Kroll Security International, the number is now 70 a day. A year ago, U.S. troops had the run of the country and the press could travel almost anywhere. Now there are “no-go” zones in the Sunni Triangle, and Sadr City is a scene of daily carnage. Outside the Kurdish north, few provinces are free of daily attacks.
With kidnappings and beheadings of humanitarian workers and foreign labor, many have fled the country. The press is now largely confined to the Green Zone, which has itself been subject to mortar and car-bomb attacks. American dead and wounded in July and August were higher than in the invasion months of March and April 2003.
Eighteen months after we occupied Germany, the nation was de-Nazified and pacified. Eighteen months after we occupied Iraq, Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise and, as Colin Powell now concedes, “We are fighting an intense insurgency [and] …. it’s getting worse.”
From 1963 to 1973, when we left Vietnam, Saigon was a safe city except during the three-week Tet Offensive of 1968. But Iraq’s capital is becoming almost uninhabitable for Westerners.
Spain, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and New Zealand have all pulled out. Ukraine and Poland are debating troop withdrawals. Seventy percent of Brits tells pollsters they want Tony Blair to remove British forces, the second largest foreign contingent.
Support for Bush’s decision to invade was overwhelming a year ago. Today, a majority of Americans believe the cost of ridding Iraq of Saddam was too high. Kerry now says Bush made a mistake going in and, if he wins, we will be out in four years. But, Senator, how do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
Robert Novak cites Bush insiders as saying we may have to move to a rapid exit in 2005. Even Rumsfeld is saying we need not pacify Iraq before drawing down U.S. forces. But why then are we building those permanent bases?
On the credit side, scores of thousands of Iraqi police and soldiers have been trained. While some joined the rebels or refused to fight in Fallujah in April, in Najaf many fought to administer a bloody defeat on Sheik Moqtada al-Sadr’s forces, though al-Sadr was allowed to evade capture or killing in a deal negotiated under the auspices of the Ayatollah al-Sistani.
At the root of the insurgency—the goal of every enemy fighter—is a determination to drive America out. Our presence, our use of tanks, Bradleys, gunships and fighter-bombers, causing inevitable civilian casualties, is recruiting more enemy than we are killing.
That the number of enemy and incidence of attacks have multiplied fourfold in a year forces us to one conclusion: we are losing this war. For the guerrilla wins if he does not lose, and the Iraqi insurgents are not losing.
How do we win this war? How do we end it? How do we get out without leaving an Iraq that is a far graver terror threat than any Saddam Hussein ever presented?
The Bush strategy appears to be this. Build up Iraqi forces to lead the assault on enemy sanctuaries in the Sunni Triangle, backed by U.S. forces and firepower. Attack and occupy these cities before January. Hold elections that will, by linking slates of candidates, produce an assembly that will maintain the Allawi government in power. Have the United States then give a date for withdrawal of American forces and begin the pullout of troops—to separate the insurgency from Islamists and foreign fighters whose end goal is an Islamist regime. Continue to build up and train the Iraqi army to where it is so large, powerful, and well equipped it can crush any rebellion. Cede maximum autonomy to Kurds and Shi’ites. And head down the road to Kuwait.But as the success or failure of the Bush presidency hangs on the outcome in Iraq, it is hard to believe Bush will not leave behind sufficient forces to prevent the loss of Iraq before brother Jeb runs in the primaries of 2008. Iraq is thus likely not only to be the issue in this election but the next as well.