Despite the rosy rhetoric emanating from the White House, the Iraqi insurgency is not dying down. The insurgents cannot defeat the US military in any particular encounter where significant resources are brought to bear, nor can they hope to physically drive the US from Iraq. But they don't have to. The insurgency, which comprises a mix of mostly Iraqi Sunnis, angered at their group's fall from power, and a smaller number of non-Iraqi Muslims drawn from across the Islamic world (though almost exclusively Arabs), scores all the propaganda points it needs with its worldwide audience of Muslim extremists by continuing the fight. Every dead Marine, every wrecked humvee, every downed Apache helicopter simply provides that much more fuel to the growing Islamist fire. It is no coincidence that so many of these attacks are filmed - the extremists have mastered the craft of creating propaganda and understand well the effect that two or three minute video clips downloaded from the Internet showing the immolation of US assets has on Muslim males 15-30 all around the world. The recruitment value of these exercises justifies their cost in the extremists' eyes. Worse, Iraq now serves as a perfect training ground to which extremists bring their new recruits for real-world experience in urban combat. Those who survive return home (and a lot are returning home to Europe) having obtained great skills and basking in the unifying experience of battling the enemy. The inurgency will not end because not winning
serves the Islamist cause even better than military victory would. It allows the Islamists to claim the moral high ground for being the "underdog" whilst generating lots of easy propaganda with low-cost explosives. Since the Islamist worldview is based entirely on religious fantasy, even a loss becomes a victory. Death - even the slaughter of hundreds of Muslim civilians - is seen as triumph, so long as it rebukes the hated American plans for a democratic Iraq.
Unfortunately, the White House appears to stagger about, lost entirely in its own neo-con driven fantasy land. Recently, US Vice President Richard Cheney made the stunning statement that the Iraqi inurgency was in its "death throes.
" Upon what evidence did Mr. Cheney make such a claim? Wishful thinking would seem the best answer. Challeneged by Senator Edward Kennedy a short time later, US General John Abizaid, currently commanding US forces in Iraq, was forced to admit that the insurgency had remained steadily potent for at least the last six months and showed no signs of losing steam
. General Abizaid, perhaps fearing for his job, would not directly say that the vice president was talking nonsense
when various senators brought up the contradition between his statements and Mr. Cheney's, but made clear that he stood by his analysis that the insurgency wasn't going away any time soon.
This weekend, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who was himself grilled relentlessly by the Senate last week, tacitly admitted to US television that the insurgency was a long term problem probably without a solution
Rumsfeld acknowledged that there is no military solution to ending the insurgency and that the talks with Iraqi insurgents were part of a search for a political solution to the war. "I mean, foreign troops are not going to beat the insurgency," he said. "It's going to be the Iraqi people that are going to beat the insurgency and Iraqi security forces. That's just the nature of an insurgency."
He also pointed out, on Fox News, that "insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years."
If Messrs. Rumsfeld, Cheney or Bush think that the US can sustain its presence in Iraq for a decade or more, they have drastically miscalculated. The occupation's financial burden ($5 billion+ a month) is rapidly draining the already empty US treasury and the slow drip of American casualties has soured the American people on the occupation. Mr. Bush, forced to use his precious and declining political capital to prop up public support for his Iraq adventure, now finds that he hasn't the clout in Washington to pass any of his ambitious second term agenda. Sitting in the Oval Office, Mr. Bush must be feeling an uncomfortable sympathy for Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Of course, Iraq isn't Vietnam. It more closely paralells the US occupation of the Phillipines exactly a century ago. Having liberated the Phillipines from Spain heavy hand, Washington expected the Fillipino people to go along with its plans to remake the country into a US-style democracy. A nationalist resistance developed, fostering a brutal insurgency which resulted in atrocities on all sides and lingered, painfully for years. In 1905, the US could afford to combat that insurgency for ten years. In 2005, our expensive high-tech army and huge foreign debt may does not permit that luxury. Worse, as the US expends its men, material and attention on Iraq, China continues to undermine the US around the world. China, as a manufacturing superpower, represents a greater threat to the US (and the West) than all the Islamist fanactics ever born. But while the US remains bogged down in Iraq, it cannot effective counter the growing Chinese economic/military campaign to marginalize the US as an Asian power. China is fast becoming the Bush administration's second blind spot, after immigration, and future historians will judge him harshly for it.
Worse for the US, the ideological nonsense currently fashionable in the West Wing has put the US at a disadvantage when trying to counter Chinese soft aggression. The Wilsonian crusade that began in Iraq has spread - albeit less obviously - to all other parts of US foreign policy. Instead of the hardnosed realpolitik practiced by the US througout the Cold War, American foreign policy now seeks to "spread democracy," even at the cost of alienating potential allies like Putin's Russia.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom echoing from the White House and the sundry neo-con pundits, the US should begin withdrawing its forces from Iraq as soon as possible. Arm the new Iraqi government to the teeth and let its forces exact their revenge on their former Sunni oppressors. The Shites are more than capable of the task and will carry it out with dispatch. So long as Washington provides a steady stream of munitions, the Shia-dominated government of Iraq has little to fear from the Sunni insurgency and will liquidate it fore more convincingly that the US ever would. Once the US has been "liberated" from the burden of Iraq, it can focus fully its attention and resources - economic, diplomatic and military - on the very real and very potent threat of China.