Viewing conflicts through the eye of Counterinsurgency COIN – Since 2007
WHEN the civilian hierarchy fails them, soldiers tend to seek solace in Clausewitz’s observation that war is an extension of politics. But in 2005 and 2006 the reverse was true in Iraq: the battle churned in place, steadily eroding the administration’s credibility and America’s psyche, while most politicians stood on the sidelines, content to hurl insults at one another until the battlefield offered a clear political course.
Today the civil-military relationship has righted itself, yet soldiers like me who believe that Iraq can be stabilized face a bitter irony. On one hand, the military is finally making meaningful adjustments to the complex fight. On the other, the politicians are finally asserting themselves. The tragedy is that the two groups are going in opposite directions.
Most Americans who have served side by side with Iraqi units, especially those of us who have been advisers to Iraqi companies and battalions, believe that significant numbers of our soldiers will be needed in Iraq for another decade. This timeline is about average for a classic insurgency, and optimistic for one so muddied by tribal feuds and religious hatred.
American soldiers in Iraq are constantly asked about our commitment to a fight we started. Most of the advisers I got to know during my most recent tour, which ended in February, were quick to try to assuage their Iraqi counterparts’ concerns and dismissive of the calls for withdrawal by American politicians, news of which trickled onto the battlefield during the winter. After all, the surge itself would not be fully under way until mid-summer. Surely the politicians would give it a chance to work.
The two Congressional votes last week establishing timelines for withdrawing American troops completely undermined such assurances. The confusion stems from an inherent contradiction in our politics: Though the burden of war is shouldered by few, the majority of Americans want to vacate Iraq, and the percentages are increasing. Something has to give.
We’re four years into a global conflict that will span generations, fighting virulent ideologues obsessed with expansion. It’s time for those who are against the war in Iraq to consider the probable military consequences of withdrawal. But it is also time for supporters of the war to step back and recognize that public opinion in great part dictates our martial options.
It’s hard for a soldier like me to reconcile a political jab like Senator Harry Reid’s “this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything” when it’s made in front of a banner that reads “Support Our Troops.” But the politician’s job is different from the soldier’s. Mr. Reid’s belief — that the best way to support the troops is by acknowledging defeat and pulling them out of Iraq — is likely shared by a large slice of the population, which gives it legitimacy.
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