You've probably all seen the new group blog, No End But Victory. I entirely support the concept behind it.
I have not written about Iraq in a little while, but only because I haven't seen anything to change my opinion of the place. The September before last I wrote "Clausewitz and the Triangle" while guest-blogging at the Mudville Gazette, which laid out the forces at work in Iraq from the perspective of military science. I think, a year and more on, that it still is the correct understanding.
Events have played out as the analysis suggested they should. The insurgent attacks have undermined their cause more than they've helped it, with the result that talk of "inkblots" or "oil spots" is now on our side instead of theirs. The tribes who had been in support of the insurgency have increasingly been splitting off and supporting US military efforts, as Bill Roggio has been reporting all summer and fall. The January elections enjoyed a large turnout and little violence, and the more recent elections enjoyed both a wider turnout and even less violence than the January elections.
Over the summer I posted two pieces to Bill's site that were the same sort of large-scale analysis. "In Response to a Question" was the first. It looked at the insurgents' problem again, and found it to be the same problem but at a later stage of development. Whereas in the September 2004 piece, the insurgents were creating no-go areas and holding towns against the United States for certain periods, the Fallujah campaign marked the start of a grinding away of any insurgent strongpoint. By the summer, the only places the insurgents could "hold" were the places no one was bothering to attack yet -- fewer and fewer as time went along. By this point, we are managing successful "clear and hold" operations throughout the Sunni Triangle, with the aid of increasingly capable Iraqi military units. Even tribes who are genuine allies of the insurgency must now reconsider their long-term future. That process is ongoing, with more and more even of the hardcore tribal insurgents shifting their stance to one amenable to the government's existence.
The other piece was "A Question of Victory," which proposed a test for victory not merely in Iraq, but in the larger GWOT. It predicted that al Qaeda's victory -- in Iraq, and elsewhere -- required that they create and maintain a sense of family bond with their various supporters in Iraq and elsewhere:
Victory is possible when and if al Qaeda's claim to a family bond fails. At that point, the tribal component will not be honor-bound to support the insurgency. If they are not family, they are enemy.Activity type one is something the military is working on, building relationships among Iraqi army units and American ones. Reconstruction projects, always under-reported but always ongoing, are another. But activity type two is of increasing importance, as demonstrated by the recent attacks in Jordan. The attacks were an attempt to strike at forces beyond Iraq, for the small reason of disrupting broader Coalition activity, and the large reason of appearing more powerful than the insurgency really is. The effect was to create a vision of kinslaying:
What kind of activity can break that bond? There are only two types.
1) Activity on the Coalition's part that makes the tribes feel a stronger family bond to us than to al Qaeda.
2) Activity on al Qaeda's part that will be interpreted as kinslaying.
Zarqawi in particular and Al-Qaeda in general have attracted a measure of support from the Jordanian underclasses, creating a dilemma for the Government of King Abdullah II as he attempts to build on the softly-softly work of his late father, King Hussein, in simultaneously forging ties with the Jewish state, appeasing Jordan's chief foreign aid donor, the US, with limited democratic reform, lifting living standards for its have-nots while retaining credibility on the Arab street. Yet in the battle for hearts and minds which runs parallel to the hot war on terror, Zarqawi might have over-reached himself with the Amman attacks.But these are the only kinds of attacks the insurgency can manage. They have no alternative strategy, because they have no capacity for an alternative strategy. They cannot concentrate on holding territory because they can hold none. They cannot negotiate because their ideology forbids it. They cannot defeat the American military, so no strategy based on that is available. They can use IEDs to bomb American and Iraqi military targets, but as those targets become hardened each successful attack requires more planning and expertise -- which means that a strategy based on that kind of attack means fewer successsful attacks over time, which the insurgency cannot afford. They must appear to be growing in power, not diminishing.
They cannot stop bombing civilian targets because they would fade out of the public mind, which for an insurgency is exactly equivalent to military defeat. They must continue bombing civilian targets, in more and more horrific fashion, if they are to continue the illusion of being a powerful, undefeatable foe. That this illusion might lead to a political decision by US politicians to withdraw is their only hope.
Yet the very means by which the illusion is maintained are the very means by which they are achieving our major condition of victory in the GWOT -- not just in Iraq, but worldwide. As they carry on in this fashion, they convince the Muslim world that they are not defenders of Muslims and Islam, but evil men. More protests against al Qaeda will result. More Islamic clerics will come out against suicide bombings, as Hasyim Muzadi did last week. Who is he, you ask? He is the leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, which with forty million members is the largest Muslim religious organization in the world.
I haven't written about Iraq much lately, because all there is to say is the same things again. These forces were and are the crucial forces at work in this war. All that is required is time and leverage, and al Qaeda must provide us with ever-increasing leverage in order to fight us at all. Victory is certain.
What I cannot predict is when al Qaeda's capability in Iraq will collapse, but there is no doubt at all that it will. They are exhausting their one critical store, the sense among Muslims that they represent defenders of Muslims and Islam. Their resiliance to date has come only from that store, as it has so far allowed them to replenish their ranks with new volunteers. When it is gone, al Qaeda in Iraq will be no more dangerous than Jemaah Islamiyah is in Southeast Asia. They may be able to carry out the occasional bombing, but they won't represent a danger to the stability of even weak, third-world nations.
The project of democracy in Iraq will then be like the project in Indonesia or Malaysia -- a project with a long way to go, that is to say, but one in which there is nevertheless notable progress.
All that the American people need to do is be patient and have faith. All that the American military needs to do is allow its men to carry on as they are doing, kicking the insurgents down every time they stand up, holding territory, building the Iraqi army and infrastructure, and building "family" ties through honorable action. That was my analysis in September 2004, and it remains my analysis today.
No End But Victory, indeed.