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
"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
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. …