Military Strategy in Iraq: What Is It? ; Congress Presses Bush and the Pentagon for a Clearer Articulation of Their Vision

By Mark Sappenfield writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 17, 2005 | Go to article overview

Military Strategy in Iraq: What Is It? ; Congress Presses Bush and the Pentagon for a Clearer Articulation of Their Vision


Mark Sappenfield writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


In refocusing the nation's attention on the war on terror in past weeks, both the president and his critics in Congress are increasingly turning to a fundamental yet frequently overlooked aspect of the Iraq conflict: whether the United States has a clear military strategy to defeat the insurgency.

Time and again, the Bush administration has stated that the way to ultimately break the insurgency is to create a strong and democratic Iraq. But that's the political path to victory, measured in mileposts such as last weekend's constitutional referendum. How to assess the military's progress in subduing - or at least managing - an enemy that refuses to stand and fight is a question that only now is getting asked.

This conflict is the sort that the armed forces have avoided since Vietnam, where the Pentagon never found adequate answers to similar strategic questions. But America's more aggressive post- Sept. 11 stance suggests that this is the warfare of the future - and the military must learn how to cope with it.

Now, pressed by Congress and an impatient public, President Bush and Pentagon leaders have begun to articulate the vision behind their current course - casting Iraq as a battle of wills in which American forces will help an improving Iraqi Army hunt down and destroy terrorists. But after 2-1/2 years of halting progress, doubts are growing among military analysts and a more combative Congress that this is a winning strategy - or even a strategy at all.

"Strategy is about connecting means to ends," says Andrew Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments here. "It's not quite clear what the strategy is."

On several occasions recently, the president has sought to refute these critics. "Our strategy is clear in Iraq," he declared in the Rose Garden Sept. 28, citing how coalition forces had killed the second-highest ranking member of Al Qaeda in Iraq and were training Iraqi forces. As more Iraqi forces reach readiness, he added, coalition forces would strike more terrorist enclaves and hold them, tightening the noose on the insurgency.

Two days later, the top commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, went so far as to say that "we need to defeat [Al Qaeda in Iraq] in the next six to 12 months, restore Iraqi control over the borders, keep them from bringing in the suicide bombers and the foreign fighters, so that after these elections the Iraqis have the opportunity to deal with the [remaining militant Saddam Hussein loyalists]."

Congressional doubts

Yet after staying largely silent on the issue throughout much of the Iraq war, Congress is now questioning whether the ongoing military operations in Iraq are guided by any unified strategy to secure the country. In a Sept. 29 congressional hearing, Rep. Ike Skelton (D) of Missouri asked General Casey: "What are we seeking to achieve? Are we fighting a counterinsurgency mission, or is our mission simply to train and equip the Iraqis?"

Two weeks ago, Sen. Jack Reed (D) of Rhode Island proclaimed that "what the administration is talking about is not really a strategy to succeed, but simply a strategy to leave."

Not coincidentally, the most critical voices have been Democrats.

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