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Robert M. Liu

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A Tale of Two Sides
11/10/2005 12:03:40 AM

All in all, in the joint operations of the U.S. military and Iraqi government forces, a battlefield strategy can be seen, though to the impatient American public, no strategy is good enough as long as casualties continue. That the Democrats have failed to put forward a plausible, alternative strategy on Iraq is an indication that the Bush Iraq strategy may be about as good as anyone can think of.
A Tale of Two Sides

-- by Robert M. Liu

Iraq is a tale of two sides. One side is bright; the other dark. As the outcome of the October 2005 Iraqi constitutional referendum shows, the bright side is obvious. Nearly two thirds of the country's 15 million eligible voters (i.e. about 10 million) participated in the referendum, and of these 10 million who cast their ballots, more than 78% (basically Shiites and Kurds) voted in favor of the new Iraqi constitution.

Without doubt, the Iraqi people as a whole have demonstrated that they want a constitutional democracy. By extension, this means that they are sick and tired of the ongoing terrorist insurgency and that they want peace, security, stability and economic reconstruction. But to achieve these objectives, they need the U.S.-led coalition to stay until such time as they can defend their country on their own.

Unfortunately, the dark side of the story is also very obvious when one looks more closely at the details of the results of the referendum and figure out what they mean on the ground. First, that more than 78% of those who went to polling stations in October voted yes to the new constitution means that more than 21% of the 10 million participating voters said no to the constitution.

That comes to more than 2.1 million people, basically in the Sunni Triangle, who are unfriendly toward the democratically elected government in Baghdad. Besides, many Sunni with hostile attitudes toward the new Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition boycotted the referendum. This could push the number of unfriendly people in the Sunni Triangle past 3 million -- a clear majority in the region.

Such demographics pose a serious problem to the new Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition. In order to effectively stabilize the situation in the Sunni Triangle, it would be ideal to deploy Sunni soldiers, Sunni policemen, Sunni security experts, and Sunni intelligence officers there, if their loyalty to the new Iraqi government can be guaranteed. It is, however, easier said than done.

The fact that millions of Sunni remain friendly toward the Baathists could negatively affect the morale and loyalty of soldiers and policemen recruited from Sunni communities especially when they are deployed in the Sunni Triangle. Furthermore, this provides a favorable environment for the Baathist insurgent network which hides among the Sunni population and which harbors Abu al-Zarqawi's Islamic jihad fighters, who are being used by the Baathists as imported human bombs -- their so-called "unconventional weapons".

As to Sunni security and intelligence personnel, these are dangerous characters trained by Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime, a large part of whom now form the core of the underground Baathist network. In my view, the Baathists were in contact with Zarqawi long before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq because they recognized Zarqawi's usefulness to them.

There is no knowing how many safe houses the Baathists have among the Sunni population. But one would presume that some of those Sunni mosques may be used by insurgents as safe houses, complete with underground tunnels, weapons cashes and food provisions. Since ancient times, religious buildings have provided sanctuary and safe haven to fugitives. There is no reason to think that the Baathists and the Islamic jihad terrorists will not take advantage of them.

Last year, Abu al-Zarqawi pledged his allegiance to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- an indication that when Zarqawi was in Afghanistan during the 1990s and early 2000s, he was not taking orders from bin Laden, and since Zarqawi was not taking orders from bin Laden, he was not receiving financial support from bin Laden, either.

This should lead us to suspect that Zarqawi was probably receiving financial support from the Saddam Hussein regime because he was useful in recruiting terrorists for the Baathists. Put in another way, Zarqawi's real allegiance has always been to the Baathists, not to al Qaeda.

"Baath Socialism" which Zarqawi has been working for is an Arab variety of Stalinism. Since it is ideologically different from Islamism, it may not lure Islamic jihad fighters. So, Zarqawi's public announcement of allegiance to Osama bin Laden should be seen as a gimmick designed to help recruit Islamic jihad terrorists to fight and die for the Baathist cause of terror.

Of course, Zarqawi would like to receive financial support from al Qaeda now that he has pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Yet, ironically, in a July 2005 letter to Zarqawi, intercepted by the U.S. military, Ayman al-Zawahiri (Bin Laden's top lieutenant) asked Zarqawi for financial assistance -- a payment of about one hundred thousand dollars. Does this mean that, isolated by the U.S.-led coalition, al Qaeda's two top leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, are on their way to becoming irrelevant?

In the same letter, Ayman al-Zawahiri advised Zarqawi not to bomb Shiite mosques and not to kill Shiite civilians because Ayman al-Zawahiri thought "al Qaeda in Iraq" had to have support from the Shiite population if it was to succeed.

But Zarqawi's "al Qaeda in Iraq" has since continued to bomb Shiite mosques and marketplaces, killing many Shiite civilians. This suggests that "al Qaeda in Iraq" has rejected the instructions of al Qaeda's Number Two man as irrelevant. Like Saddam Hussein, Zarqawi wants to terrorize the Shiites. Like Saddam Hussein, he wants to kill Shiites execution-style. It is more of a Baathist measure of terror. Zarqawi has been working for the Baathists all along.

Some Democrats like to say that the Bush administration does not have a strategy for Iraq. To be accurate, I would say that the administration certainly has an Iraq strategy though it may not be foolproof. Given the difficult situation in Iraq, it is not possible for anyone to conceive a foolproof strategy. America is at war, and as long as the war lasts, there are risks and casualties.

Did President Franklin D. Roosevelt have a foolproof strategy for World War II? Apparently not. Otherwise, the isolationists of that era would not have accused FDR of having "lied America into war". In the end, America won, though at a very high price.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. It is unwise to prejudge. All the second-guessing by the Democrats of President Bush's Iraq strategy isn't going to help America's war efforts. It only serves the Democrats' political interests. What's important now is: "Don't let anybody lie America out of a victory!"

Do you know this man: Abdel Bari Atwan? He is the editor of a London-based Arabic-language publication, called "Al-Quds Al-Arabic Newspaper". His advice to the Bush administration: "Cut loss and pull out of Iraq" -- as if Baghdad was about to fall into the hands of the Baathists led by Saddam Hussein.

But whoever thinks Mr. Atwan's advice has any value ought to know who he is. For instance, there is a photograph showing Mr. Atwan and Osama bin Laden embracing each other with broad happy smiles as if they were long lost brothers. Besides, each time Mr. Atwan appears on TV, he is full of anti-American rhetoric. Hopefully, the Democrats will at least not sound as if they were seriously considering Mr. Atwan's advice.

Anti-war protests like those triggered by Cindy Sheehan's request to meet Bush tend to hurt the President's approval ratings and therefore help the Democrats politically. But those who consider participating in such activities should understand that anti-war demonstrations, while unlikely to boost the morale of U.S. troops in Iraq, are sure to boost the morale of the Baathist insurgents and Zarqawi's Islamic terrorists. If that is what you want, go ahead -- America is a free country where no one can stop you displaying slogans, however silly and nonsensical they may be.

Talking of opinion survey ratings, one thought occurred to me recently on how Americans have changed their attitudes toward the Iraq War. In November 2004, they re-elected George W. Bush. At the time, opinion surveys showed that more than 50% of Americans thought that the war was worth its costs in human lives. Then, in only a few months' time, because of the increases in U.S. troop casualties in Iraq, quite a few people changed their minds, resulting in a drop in the number of Americans thinking the war was worth its costs.

Now, opinion surveys show that the percentage of Americans who think the war is worth the loss of American lives is way below 50%. My suspicion is: Could it be that certain opinion survey questions have caused Americans to develop what I would call a guilty conscience? Take the following as an example.

Question: "Do you believe the war in Iraq is worth the loss of American lives, now that more than 2000 American soldiers have died there?"

Although the answer is a simple yes or no, it is not easy. For if one says yes, one would face the next question in one's own mind: "If you believe the war is worth the loss of American lives, would you join the army and fight for the cause of freedom in Iraq?"

This second question is even more difficult. For if one says no, one's conscience may accuse oneself of being hypocritical, "Hey, you say the war is worth the loss of American lives, but you yourself don't want to risk your life in Iraq. Where is your conscience?"

So, one ends up saying that the war in Iraq is not worth the loss of American lives, which may be an easier answer. But it may be a less honest answer too. That is because whether the war in Iraq is worth the loss of American lives is a geopolitical question more than just a personal moral question. Many more American soldiers lost their lives during World War II. Can we say that America's participation in World War II was not worth the loss of American lives?

And there are those who call the Iraq War "a war of choice", as if it was not necessary to take out the Saddam Hussein regime despite its violation of all United Nations resolutions including U.N. Resolution 1441 that provided for "serious consequences" in case of Saddam Hussein's defiance, a term which means military action in geopolitics -- as if there would be no consequences had the regime been left to its own devices.

The fact is that while weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq, the Saddam Hussein regime's intention of resuming its WMD programs once pressures were lifted was detected by inspectors after the U.S.-led invasion. Geopolitically speaking, it was a smart move for the Free World to help establish a friendly government in Iraq -- at the heart of an oil-rich region where the proceeds from its oil resources have been funneled into various terrorist organizations, enabling them to grow and threaten U.S. and allied interests.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has isolated Syria and heartened moderate forces in Iran. That is why these two state sponsors of terror are trying to destabilize the Iraqi situation. They allow terrorists, weapons and explosives to move across their borders into Iraq.

Meanwhile, an isolated Syria had no choice but to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, watching pro-democracy forces take over in Beirut. And in Iran the paranoid mullahs decided that in the face of American pressures they had to replace moderate officials with ignorant, incompetent hardliners like the new president Ahmadinejad to pretend they were unafraid and strong. This clumsy move has plunged the country into an economic disaster. It could exacerbate the conflicts between the moderates and the hardliners in Iran.

In retrospect, when the Shah of Iran, a long-time American ally, was in trouble in the late 1970s, it was absolutely necessary to help him stabilize his country and protect his oil fields. But the Democratic administration of Jimmy Carter was so incompetent that it could not even realize that to help the Shah of Iran was a move of absolute necessity in the interest of America herself, not a move of choice.

A quarter of a century later, when that "absolute necessity" has become self-evident to the West, it is too late -- "the new Iran" under the control of the mullahs is now an oil-rich state sponsor of terror bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

If the Saddam Hussein regime had not been overthrown in spring of 2003, what kind of a state sponsor of terror "the Hussein Dynasty" would have grown into by 2028 with its vast oil resources and secret WMD programs? Do the Democrats have the far-sightedness and imagination to see the consequences? Or are they really so naive that they believe state sponsors of terror will just mark time and stay where they are?

If one takes a realistic view of the Iraqi situation, one may be able to answer opinion survey questions more honestly. For instance:

(1) Question: "Do you believe the war in Iraq is worth the loss of American lives now that more than 2000 U.S. soldiers have died there?" Answer: "Yes."

(2) Question: "Would you join the army and risk your own life in Iraq?" Answer: "No."

(3) Question: "Why not?" Answer: "Because I am not a hero. If you want to call me a coward, go ahead. But geopolitically, to say the Iraq War is not worth the loss of American lives is not to give an honest answer."

(4) Question: "Do you have a guilty conscience?" Answer: "Yes, I do. I wish I were brave enough to join those heroic American soldiers in their fight for the cause of freedom in Iraq. But all I can do is to watch them fight on TV and admire their great contributions to the Free World. Yes, I have a guilty conscience."

Now, let's look at the U.S. military's strategy in Iraq, as I have learned from media reports. First, the U.S. military has trained more than 150,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen, and gradually, they have improved their fighting skills. On many occasions, Iraqi forces have been able to hold their ground when under enemy fire.

With the help of the U.S.-led coalition, Iraqi government forces are growing, and at a certain point, with continued investments, they will reach the critical mass they need to overwhelm the insurgency. That tipping point will come, sooner or later.

It seems that the U.S. military has acquired certain state-of-the-art gadgets and equipment which have increased U.S. soldiers's ability to eliminate improvised explosive devices (IED's) in a more effective manner, though insurgents' roadside bombs have so far caused serious U.S. troops casualties.

(To my surprise, sixty years after World War II, roadside bombs are still being used as effective killing devices, and America's defense contractors are still searching for more effective ways to get rid of them. Isn't this a race against time?)

Apparently, the Sunni population is divided. Although the majority of it is sympathetic toward the Baathists, it appears that a certain number of Sunni are tipping off the U.S. military and the new Iraqi government, enabling U.S. and Iraqi forces to launch effective offensives. As a result, insurgents' safe houses have been bombed out of existence, large numbers of terrorists killed or captured, and the Baathist underground network severely damaged.

This should have a psychological effect on Sunni residents. They now must make a choice. If they harbor insurgents and allow their homes to become insurgent safe houses, they run the risk of having their homes bombed by U.S. war-planes. In which case, their families could become "collateral damage".

That sounds cruel. But "collateral damage" is an inevitable reality in war. Besides, this is a war America wants to end as soon as possible. Harboring insurgents can only prolong the war. Sunni residents who don't want to risk their families' lives have the option of escaping from known or suspected insurgent safe houses. When they run away, they isolate the insurgents, allowing U.S. war-planes to bomb enemy targets without causing "collateral damage".

By eliminating insurgent safe houses, sealing Iraq's border with Syria and cutting off supply routes for the insurgents, U.S. and Iraqi forces may have already disrupted the Baathist underground network, though the insurgency retains its ability to launch attacks and assassinate Iraqi government officials and their relatives.

All in all, in the joint operations of the U.S. military and Iraqi government forces, a battlefield strategy can be seen, though to the impatient American public, no strategy is good enough as long as casualties continue. That the Democrats have failed to put forward a plausible, alternative strategy on Iraq is an indication that the Bush Iraq strategy may be about as good as anyone can think of.

The Iraq War has been a major ground campaign, and since there is no such thing as a major ground campaign with no casualties, the war has brought America many painful moments. Nevertheless, to be fair to the generals, U.S. troop casualties in Iraq are low, compared with those in previous major ground campaigns like the Korean War and the Vietnam War, not to mention the Normandy Landing in 1944 and the Pacific War against Japan.

The Democrats enjoy piling blames on George W. Bush for anything that goes wrong in Iraq. But he is not going to run for office any more. Let's hope that by 2008 Iraqi government forces will have been beefed up much further and the Iraqi situation stabilized noticeably. Otherwise, the Democrats would have to face the same problems and the same blames if they won the White House.

[November 8, 2005]

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