Tuesday, June 17, 2008
On this day:

Al-Qaeda's Vietnam

NRO's Rich Lowry says:
Lately, the Iraq war has looked more and more like another Vietnam — not for us, but for al-Qaeda.

CIA Director Michael Hayden says the terror group has suffered “near-strategic defeat” in Iraq. It has been routed from Anbar, Diyala, and Baghdad provinces, and now is getting a beating in its last stronghold of Mosul, in the north. It is reviled by the Iraqi populace, and its downward trajectory began with indigenous uprisings at its expense.

When the United States lost Vietnam, it lost credibility and saw an emboldened Marxist-Leninist offensive around the third world. Al-Qaeda is a global insurgency and not a nation-state — and thus its circumstances are radically different from ours 40 years ago — but it has suffered a similar reputational loss.

The Iraq war had been a powerful recruiting tool for al-Qaeda when it was winning. No more. Osama bin Laden rendered what is called the “bandwagon effect” in international relations — the tendency of states to go along with the dominant power — in his homespun Arabic analogy of people liking the strong horse over the weak horse. In Iraq, al-Qaeda’s proverbial horse is a broken-down nag.
Today's massacre in a predominately Shiite section of Baghdad shows that the al-Qaeda types have yet to give up in their war against the forces of civilized society, but it's increasingly clear that these sorts of heinous acts only serve to isolate the extremists even further from everyday Iraqis.

The Iraqi government is becoming more confident and more capable in taking on the bad guys, as demonstrated by its recent successes in Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul. Just this week, Prime Minister Maliki announced that he was sending Iraqi forces into the southern city of Amara to root out Mahdi Army leader Moqtada al-Sadr's militia there. And as the Washington Post noted in a Sunday editorial, Maliki has also begun to stand up to his neighbors in Iran, "in effect,... saying that his country does not want to become an Iranian satellite but an independent Arab state that would look to the United States to ensure its security."

It's important for Americans to understand how this remarkable turnaround came about. Kimberly Kagan and Robert Kagan had a good summary in the June 10 edition of the Wall Street Journal. Read it. And remember that the underlying event that made these successes possible was a new strategy - the essential part of which was the "surge" - developed and executed by the administration and a new set of generals beginning last year. Sen. John McCain had been encouraging just such a classic counterinsurgency strategy for some time; in fact, he was its principal supporter. Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress, on the other hand, roundly denounced the surge and sought to cast it as a continuation of the "same old failed Bush policy." Well, it wasn't. They were wrong, and McCain was right.

This election has been billed as a "change" election. Well, when the U.S. desperately needed a change in strategy that would allow us to actually win the war in Iraq, John McCain took the lead and helped set our troops on a course to victory. Meanwhile, Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats seemed ready to wave the white flag of surrender, opposing the surge and instead calling for an immediate withdrawal of American forces.

For a politician to call for "change" is fine and dandy, but voters must first know the answer to a simple question before embracing such a candidate: Quo vadis? Where are you going?

We now know that the surge has made possible a real strategic victory over radical Islamists in one of the most important countries in the Middle East. Would a withdrawal of American forces have led to as desirable an outcome? Would it have made America more secure? Would it have resulted in less suffering among Iraqis? If our imminent victory has been bought at a price, what would have been the price of defeat?