Let’s give the surge a fighting chance

By Liz Egan

In January, General David Petraeus was unanimously confirmed by the Senate to command U.S. forces in Iraq. Since then, the progress his leadership has made in Iraq is astoundingly and therefore astoundingly underreported by the media.

When Petraeus was being considered for confirmation, he made it explicit to Congress that he would not be able to do his job without reinforcements. Today marks day 82 since Bush requested emergency aid for our troops in the Middle East. The bill has been manipulated by Congress to resemble a mandate for unconditional retreat that both the President and Petraeus rightfully refuse to accept. As President Bush has observed, the very Congress that voted to send a new commander into battle then voted to oppose the plan he said was necessary to win that battle.

Petraeus is an experienced military official whose influence in the Pentagon helped bring about the unprecedented collaboration between the Army and the Marines to reevaluate counterinsurgency tactics. In congressional testimony, Petraeus outlined modifications to the military’s mission that make security of the population, particularly in Baghdad and in partnership with Iraqi forces, the focus of the military effort.

True to his word, Petraeus oversaw January’s deployment of 21,000 troops, which was designed to embrace a strategy quite different from the specialized search-and-destroy operations that target specific insurgents and have been the military’s modus operandi thus far. Instead, the surge seeks to protect Iraqi civilians from insurgent sectarian violence. This shift is a reflection of the new counterinsurgency doctrine that was released in the latest Counterinsurgency Field Manual, or FM 3-24, in December 2006.

Petraeus is one of the primary authors of FM 3-24, which is part of the joint effort of the Army and the Marines to contextualize and redirect past practices and misconceptions about military strategy in an insurgency. The manual can be downloaded in full and for free at fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm3-24.pdf.

Naturally, academics comfortably holed up in their ivory towers have found much to criticize about the manual, submitting negative reviews of it to such bastions of freedom as The New York Times. But the manual has been eagerly received by military communities across the globe, and many are enthusiastic and have high hopes for the new strategies outlined in FM 3-24.

Primarily, FM 3-24 stresses the importance of adaptability in the field and “soft power,” a strategy of winning over the hearts and minds of the Iraqis through the minimization of violence.

One of FM 3-24’s strengths is that it employed the expertise of multiple authors and was frequently revised to reflect feedback from hundreds of military officers. The authors did not rely on theory alone to construct the manual’s strategies. In addition to careful examination of past wars, in particular the insurgent conflicts in Vietnam and Malaysia, the manual cites several real examples of nontraditional field tactics that have been successful in the Middle East. One example describes a soldier who successfully diffused a tense situation in a crowd of armed Iraqis by simply lowering his weapon and taking a knee.

Such non-aggressive tactics require incredible short-term risk for our soldiers, but FM 3-24 argues that these risks are necessary for the establishment of long-term peace in Iraq. The manual postulates that soft power is as strong a weapon in the war on terror as targeted firepower. The support of Iraqis will be won by allowing our humanity to contrast with the murderous disregard of jihadist insurgents.

Yet the support of the American people is still in question. Democrats are still confused about the role of Iraq in the war on terror, but bin Laden himself minces no words when he describes the conflict in Iraq. “The most serious issue today for the whole world is this third-world war that is raging in Iraq. The whole world is watching, and it will end in either victory and glory or misery and humiliation.” Another potent bin Laden-ism: “Success in Baghdad will be success for the United States. Failure in Iraq is the failure of the United States. Their defeat in Iraq will mean defeat in all their wars.” Democrats in the House who are trying to impose American defeat by financially strangling American troops may not think freedom in Iraq is worth our while, but it sure seems like a big deal to the terrorists.

The surge has yet to be given a fighting chance at success. Our men and women in uniform need aid now, and each day they do not receive it, their lives are threatened not just by terrorists and insurgents, but by the very politicians whose freedom they are fighting to defend.

To say that “the war is lost,” as Harry Reid recently did, is woefully premature. al Qaeda terrorists depend on their belief that America doesn’t have the stamina or willpower for a long-term fight. General Petraeus is determined to prove them wrong, and Americans must join him in that determination.