Small Wars Journal

Decency, Toughness... and No Shortcuts

Decency, Toughness... and No Shortcuts by Bing West, The Atlantic

The Iraq war has faded as an item of interest to the national press because the violence has plummeted, while a consensus has formed that the American military learned from experience and now knows what it's doing. In 2006, we were losing the war; today, the military trajectory is encouraging, and US forces are slowly withdrawing. During my 15th trip to Iraq in August, for the first time I didn't hear a shot fired. In several cities, I walked into markets with only a few American soldiers, and was immediately surrounded by Iraqis eager to talk about the economy, security, politics, whatever.

Normality? Nowhere close. Concrete barriers (designed to restrict the flesh-ripping radius of suicide bombers) were still in place, enclosing neighborhoods in Baghdad and a dozen other cities. Car bombings and criminal kidnappings persisted, as did battles against disparate al-Qaeda cells and Shiite insurgent gangs incited by Iran. Still, Iraq was not engulfed in civil war. The Sunni resistance had largely collapsed.

A sure sign that the war in Iraq has turned around has been the rush to take credit. Victory has a thousand fathers. This would seem a harmless parlor game, were Afghanistan not looming. Military success in Iraq is sure to lead to lessons to be applied in Afghanistan. Let's make sure we pick the right lessons.

What did cause the turnaround since 2006? Three competing explanations have popped up. Some have claimed that covert operations, involving the use of top-secret technical devices, are what drove the insurgency's leaders from Iraq. Others attribute the turnaround to Bush's decision in January 2007 to add 30,000 more troops. And still others suggest that it is the brilliance of General Petraeus, who took command in Iraq in February of 2007, that we have to thank for the improvements.

Much more at The Atlantic.