Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Iraq: You can't win when nobody is on your side

24 April 2007

Let's get back to basics on Iraq.

The Sunnis are against us. The Shiites are against us.

It is not possible to win a foreign war of hearts and minds when essentially nobody is on our side.

Only wars of conquest can be won without allies, and such victories are short-lived. Further, the American aim in the Iraq conflict was not to conquer, but to set people free. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, including a succession of disastrous strategic errors, this has not happened.

I think that the West had much to offer to the people of Iraq. We were not there to steal or even to secure the oil, but this has been misunderstood. Unfortunately, the people of Iraq don't appear to have seen things this way, and certainly not Mr. Bush's way.

We have not communicated well with the Iraqis, and it has cost us their support - on virtually all sides.

History teaches us that it is unwise to wage unwinnable wars. Such ventures tend to be associated with declining empires. Good intentions do not secure the peace. Allies do. Our primary failure has been that few real allies have been secured, whereas many new and bitter generational enemies have been created.

WIthout allies, we cannot win the peace. With the daily increase of our enemies, what can we do - particularly with military tools - that can possibly be effective?

Let us learn to put our efforts into cooperative ventures with those who desire our partnership.

Greg Mortenson is building schools in the autonomous mountain regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. What he is doing works.

Let's put the kind of resources into Mr. Mortenson's work that have been expended on the Iraq War. Mr. Mortenson is creating allies by the thousands while the Iraq War is creating enemies by the thousands.

Redirecting our resources to the work of those who build relationships, such as Mr. Mortenson, is the kind of international investment that makes sense.

Winding down the ghastly military-industrial complex also makes sense. Here, I am not referring to the courageous soldiers and support personnel, who have sacrificed their lives for a noble cause, but to those who profit by promoting war when peace-building alternatives exist and remain unexplored.

Let's get better at the business of building relationships and alliances. Let's use guns less and friendship more. Let us learn to take on missions in which peace-based constructive alliances assure our success.

Let us abandon missions where our use of destructive military technologies assures that our enemies will increase and our allies will vanish.

It is time to leave Iraq to the Iraqis, and to aid the Pakistanis and the Afghans in building schools.

More about Greg Mortenson later.

Note (30 August 2008): A combination of the US troop surge and disastrous tactics on the part of Iraqi insurgents seem now to have turned the tide in the Iraq War in favour of stabilization. I admit that I was unprepared for this turn of events, but it is very pleasing now to report that my earlier pessimism appears to have been incompletely founded. Thanks to Michael Yon for being one of the first to report the favourable news - independently - from the front lines!


  1. I think before Mr. Bush vetoes the Democrats' Iraq withdrawal deadline, he should provide a list of our allies in Iraq to congress.