Expanding the Battlefield

Reading through the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq put out by the White House yesterday, my mind kept coming back to the idea of expanding the battlefield. It is, however, a concept much easier said than done.
One of the themes in the National Strategy is essentially a version of the “flypaper” theory:

Prevailing in Iraq will help us win the war on terror.
+The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. And we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror.
+Osama Bin Laden has declared that the “third world war…is raging” in Iraq, and it will end there, in “either victory and glory, or misery and humiliation.”
+Bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri has declared Iraq to be “the place for the greatest battle,” where he hopes to “expel the Americans” and then spread “the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.”
+Al Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has openly declared that “we fight today in Iraq, and tomorrow in the Land of the Two Holy Places, and after there the west.”
+As the terrorists themselves recognize, the outcome in Iraq — success or failure — is critical to the outcome in the broader war on terrorism.

Essentially, the idea is that, by removing Saddam Hussein’s terror-sponsoring tyranny and clearing the path for the first-ever free representative democracy in the Arab world, we have forced Al Qaeda and others sharing its basic ideology to fight us at a time and in a place of our choosing; both sides now recognize that the victor in Iraq will be in an immeasurably stronger position, both strategically and on the propaganda front, to pursue its goals throughout the region. Of course, Iraq was, aside from the other reasons for war, well-suited to this role for many reasons: the population was bone-tired of tyranny, the Kurdish north had developed institutions of self-government, the Shi-ite majority would not be receptive to foreign Sunni fanatics, and the terrain is more favorable to U.S. military technological advantages than, say, mountainous Afghanistan.
None of this is to say that the insurgency has been a good thing, but rather that the situation was one in which we could deal a blow to the enemy whether they fought or not. It is the recognition of that challenge that has compelled them to fight.
Anyway, part of the battle in Iraq has been essentially a war of attrition: we’ve been killing the enemy in large numbers and draining their financial and operational resources, while they have sought to find the magic number of U.S. casualties that will cause us to buckle and turn tail. Obviously, one of the major questions about this kind of war is to what extent the manpower and resources of the global enemy are finite, as opposed to being expanded by conflict. The National Strategy identifies three groups fighting our troops in Iraq:

Rejectionists are the largest group. They are largely Sunni Arabs who have not embraced the shift from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to a democratically governed state. Not all Sunni Arabs fall into this category. But those that do are against a new Iraq in which they are no longer the privileged elite. Most of these rejectionists opposed the new constitution, but many in their ranks are recognizing that opting out of the democratic process has hurt their interests.

We judge that over time many in this group will increasingly support a democratic Iraq provided that the federal government protects minority rights and the legitimate interests of all communities.

Saddamists and former regime loyalists harbor dreams of reestablishing a Ba’athist dictatorship and have played a lead role in fomenting wider sentiment against the Iraqi government and the Coalition.

We judge that few from this group can be won over to support a democratic Iraq, but that this group can be marginalized to the point where it can and will be defeated by Iraqi forces.

Terrorists affiliated with or inspired by Al Qaida make up the smallest enemy group but are the most lethal and pose the most immediate threat because (1) they are responsible for the most dramatic atrocities, which kill the most people and function as a recruiting tool for further terrorism and (2) they espouse the extreme goals of Osama Bin Laden — chaos in Iraq which will allow them to establish a base for toppling Iraq’s neighbors and launching attacks outside the region and against the U.S. homeland.

The terrorists have identified Iraq as central to their global aspirations. For that reason, terrorists and extremists from all parts of the Middle East and North Africa have found their way to Iraq and made common cause with indigenous religious extremists and former members of Saddam’s regime. This group cannot be won over and must be defeated — killed or captured — through sustained counterterrorism operations.

The first two groups are unique to Iraq, although similar factions would exist elsewhere. But it’s the third group we are interested in fighting worldwide. I suspect that there is, in fact, some element of truth to the idea that the Iraq War “created” more terrorists in the third group, in the sense that conflict always enables extremists to rally more people to their banners. It’s impossible to quantify that effect, though, and the bottom line is that this brand of extremist comes from the pool of those who are already strongly sympathetic to the jihadists. I have to believe that there remain real limits to how much manpower and financial and operational resources the jihadis can call upon.
That’s where the concept of expanding the battlefield comes into play. At present, U.S. forces are operating in two theaters where the enemy needs to put resources into fighting us – Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the lessons both of the Cold War and the two World Wars, however, is that America’s deep vein of untapped financial, technological and manpower resources gives us a major strategic advantage in war once we can open enough different fronts to force the enemy to become overextended. This is particularly true when we can call upon the assistance of allies, at least to the extent of assisting us within their homelands and home regions. Even after years of controvesry over Iraq, we still have a few allies willing and able to commit major resources to the war on terror generally (the UK, Israel, and Australia) a few others willing and able to commit major resources locally (notably India and Russia), and a wider variety of allies willing to make partial commitments (the French and Germans have reportedly been quite helpful on the law enforcement side) or to offer case-by-case assistance.
But how do we bring those advantages to bear? The obvious answer would be to fight another war, displacing another terror-sponsoring tyranny in the Arab and/or Muslim worlds with a fledgling democracy. While it may yet be necessary to go to war with Syria and/or Iran, however, I don’t really need to list here all the reasons why we shouldn’t be eager for another war if it’s not strictly necessary to the overall victory in the war on terror.
The Cold War would seem to offer a partial operational model. During the Reagan years, after all, we found many ways to put pressure on the Communist world without committing U.S. troops to another full-scale war like Vietnam and Korea. Some of those methods, like a budget-busting state vs. state nuclear arms race, can’t be replicated here. But the strategy of promoting proxy battles against the Soviets, forcing up the cost of penetrating places like Afghanistan and Central America, while promoting democracy movements in the Soviet heartland in Eastern Europe, can be a partial model. After all, if we can encourage peaceful (or violent) movements towards democracy in multiple other states at once, we can compel the enemy to divert scarce resources away from Iraq to try to prevent democratic norms – which are anathema to the jihadists – from taking root across the region. The National Strategy identifies the opportunities:

[C]hange is coming to the region, with Syrian occupation ended and democracy emerging in Lebanon, and free elections and new leadership in the Palestinian Territories. From Kuwait to Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt, there are stirrings of political pluralism, often for the first time in generations.

While none of this is new, the commentary on these stirrings of democracy have tended to focus on two aspects: (1) the idea that our ideals are being vindicated and (2) the idea that we are progressing towards long-term regional goals. But that overlooks the strategic advantage of pressing for more democracy, more liberty, and, yes, more destabilization of existing regimes now and all at once: the more places on the map we can turn into vital interests that the enemy needs to address by dispatching terrorists, money and other operational resources to battle against the forces of democratization and liberty, the more it helps us win everywhere. Regardless of how we go about it, that’s the effect we need to be thinking about in the context of expanding the battlefield.

15 thoughts on “Expanding the Battlefield”

  1. Do you have any idea how much the War in Iraq is costing us? Everyone knows the tragic death toll: 2,100. Then there’s the wounded soldiers; I think on Meet the Press, John Merva said 15,000 wounded, 7,500 of them seriously wounded (and as someone who visits the Walter Reed Military Hospital on a weekly basis, he should know). Now how about the tens of thousands of reserve troops pulled away from their careers and families? How about the active military stretched dangerously thin? How about the $300 billion borrowed from the Chinese to pay for all of this? And stop for a second to think how much $300 billion really is. To answer a question you raised yesterday, yes we could put a cop on every block of every street in America for several years with that money. Do you think maybe the enemy is using Reagan’s strategy of bankrupting them into oblivion on us?
    Last Sunday, George Will said on ‘This Week’ that later this month we will have reached the 1,000 day mark in Iraq. On the week of the 1,000th day in WWII, we entered Germany. Since the President loves the WWII analogy so much, what is our ‘entering Germany’ moment?
    He made another interesting point comparing a pull out in Iraq to passage of the Welfare Reform Bill. The Iraqi Soldiers, like all the families dependant on government handouts for all those years, will never achieve independence until Uncle Sam leaves them alone.

  2. The “entering Germany” moment? The fall of Baghdad.
    Note that it took something like 7 years after we entered Germany to get the place fully functioning & independent again. And 61 years later, our troops are still there.
    I’d agree that we should withdraw, or at least mostly withdraw, once the Iraqis are ready to stand alone, but while there’s been visible progress, they clearly are not quite there yet.

  3. I should add that if you are looking for points of no return at which it became clear that the insurgents couldn’t win as long as we stuck to our plan, I’d say the January elections were a huge one.

  4. This document is worthless. Why not give it to the USC cheerleaders to read? At least there would be some tight sweaters to go along with all the Rah Rah bullcrap. This whole thing is based on the concept that everything is terrific over there, that this whole things wasn’t a snow job (read current issue of Rolling Stone “The Man Who Sold The War”) to begin with and that we are actually in this, at least partially, for the good of the Iraqis (which we aren’t).

  5. Jim, Jim, Jim. First of all, the strategy document isn’t intended to be a be-all/end-all, but simply to concisely summarize the overall strategy. Sure, it’s stuff we’ve heard before from various sources, but there’s some benefit to the White House going on record with the overall view. Second, the strategy document doesn’t assume there are no problems – it’s full of caveats and quite clear that the job isn’t done and there are obstacles ahead. Third, did you read the whole thing? It was quite explicit that doing good for the Iraqis isn’t charity but is in our own national interests.
    But the fact is, we are winning and – if we stay to finish the job – we will win. Not a perfect victory and certainly a costly one, but by the close of 2005 we will have both a constitution and an elected government in place.

  6. It is solely another piece of propaganda that has little legitimacy to it at all. I read enough of it to get the idea. It starts and ends on the same principle. You think this war has a legitimate purpose and was fought for real reasons. I and many others think it is a sham that has made our country worse off both ecnomically and security-wise. Like any piece of propaganda if you go into already a believer than it will serve to intensify your resolve. If you are sceptic of this Administration then this is nothing more than the drivvel and lies they shovel out on a daily basis.

  7. I read yesterday’s speech and could not get past the fourth paragraph: “Yet the terrorists have made it clear that Iraq is the central front in their war against humanity. And so we must recognize Iraq as the central front in the war on terror.”
    Its obvious the President is still based in an alternate reality. Who are ‘the terrorists?” Why is this their central front?
    Iraq was a lethal enemy of the United States. But to still nonchalantly blur a country the size of California in with Al Queada this late in the game is asinine.
    The week we invaded Iraq I went to hear Former Sen Bob Kerry speak. He told the audience, “I’ve always been for the overthrow of Saddam’s regime. But when the President gives a new, less legitimate reason for it each week with his John Wayne swagger, sadly, he almost talks me out of it.”
    GWB entered the alternate universe back around that time and hasn’t returned since.

  8. Regarding Bush and reality; from Seymour Hersh’s recent article in The New Yorker.
    Bush is a believer in the adage ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’ ” He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. “They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,” the former defense official said.
    How comforting.

  9. That would be because he’s an investigative journalist I presume? Pulitzer Prize winner, broke the story of the My Lai Massacre (I suppose that never happened either), wrote about the Nixon Administration’s secret bombings of Cambodia (no doubt total fiction) and to placate you righties he did an expose on the Kenndy White House that was far from flattering. Just because he writes about things you either do not like or would prefer were not written about does not make him not credible.

  10. Crank, Crank. please don’t stoop to the usual far-right Conservative claptrap of ridiculing that which disagrees with you–Seymour Hersch is a reporter with an adgenda, no doubt, but a solid one.
    We might actually have had to go to war in Iraq, but for a more simple reason: acting against Iraq now would have been like acting against Afghanistan and Al-Quaida in 1998. That would have been politically impossible for CLinton for various reasons:
    A. The right wing would have gone on about his “Wagging the dog” as when he bombed a probably chemical plant in the Sudan.
    B. No one outside of the White House inner circle really understood the threat, and Clinton was at fault for not publicizing it, BUT, he was very much hamstrung by a right wing that refused to believe he ever did anything right, yet this same wing can’t handle the sightest criticism of their own, calling such claims treason.
    To me, what W did yesterday was his usual theater. Someone spent a lot of time and money creating that cool visual backdrop, just as they did on the Abraham Lincoln, with that so called sailor supplied Mission Accomplished sign. We are stuck in Iraq, no choice, we all know that, but for W to keep floating reasons that change as to why we are there, from WMD, to suddenly Saddam was bib Laden’s best buddy is simply insulting. To now say the military will decide when to leave is absurd, since they have been permitted no free will whatsoever, by W and his gang of never serving henchmen. Say what you want about Clinton, but he had a VEEP who enlisted, not one who plays toy soldiers with an equally inept Sec. of Defense.
    Also, we have an issue that is as polarizing, and far more dangerous to the country that abortion–a topic Reagan knew better than to get heavily involved with BTW. So W makes his big speech in the middle of the day, so the news cycle can advance, and Fox can then edit it to something considered palatable.

  11. This War is bullshit and Bush is full of it, but I reject the Clinton “hamstrung by the right-wing” excuse out of hand.
    That is also a decision about going to War based on politics and not policy. First, I’m not sure it’s accurate—it’s entirely possible (and I prefer to believe) that Clinton didnt deem Saddam a sufficiant threat to invade another country—and second, if he DID think it was that great a threat, and chose not to out of political weakness, that is as bad as Bush lying us into the War.

  12. I should have written more clearly. My implication was that Clinton should have invaded Afghanistan. Essentially the 9/11 Commission found us all asleep at the switch; clearly not simply for not knowing about the attack (which I actually think would be hard to know), but for not preparing the public for such a strike BEFORE 9/11. I never meant to imply that Clinton, or anyone else, should have gone into Iraq.
    We as an entire nation should have been pressed into action after, if nothing else, the attack on the Cole, or the embassies, or anywhere else. We didn’t. The right wing was far too busy going after Clinton because they truly felt winning an election was more important than the country winning something, and the left wing, which believes that war is best fought in movies, not in real life.
    So W and his gang created fake reasons to invade a country on the front burner, since invading Afghanistan was not great publicity, especially after letting Public Enemy no. 1 get away. I mean, who ever cared about Afghanistan?
    Why should we be shocked that W started a war over vanity? I mean, how many kings, emperors and other heads of state did the same?

  13. I’ll side with the Crankster on this one.
    Sy Hersh has been singing the same tune since the sixties – our military is an evil and corrupt institution.
    But like a stopped clock, he is correct twice a day (or maybe twice a decade).
    Coincidentally, in my most recent post in yesterday’s Crankmeister Discussion, I just admitted that several liberal journalists were all too quick to label the War in Afghanistan a disaster.
    Sy Hersh could easily be put in that category.
    (See link to Slate Article discussing his unfair assessment: https://www.slate.com/id/2058474/ )
    Regarding his sashay into Camelot, many believe that was an attempt to cash in on a juicier target.
    But it led to serious embarrassments when Hersh had to pull back his best stuff right before a television special.
    Vanity Fair did a profile on him about 6-7 years ago, painting him as a journalist whose only standard is whether the liable claim will hold up in court.

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