Friday, September 24, 2004
One of the things that fascinates me is the extent to which the Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry, has chosen to talk down the military situation. He does this to engender a belief among Americans that the war is "lost" and is "another Vietnam". He does this deliberately, in the hopes that swing voters will lose faith in Bush's war leadership and vote him into office.
It is a base and cravenly self-serving move on the part of the Senator. But what is the reality?
Wretchard has given us all some detailed analysis on the metrics behind al-Zarqawi's bloody insurgency. Strategypage has echoed some of Wretchard's analysis, while flatly stating that the Ba'ath/Jihadi coalition is losing. I agree with both, despite some of the pessimism that has made itself felt on Greg Djerejian's page. In Greg's defense, he has not thrown his hands up in the air, in Kerryesque fashion. Rather, Djerejian is very concerned about our high casualty rate, and believes the Wretchard's analysis on casualty distribution reflects a too-optimistic view of the course of the war. As am I. However, I believe that the insurgency's tactics give away their rotten strategic position.
All warfare follows from the politics surrounding the conflict. The political reality in Iraq is that elections are set for January. Zarqawi and his allies must find some way to stop those elections, lest the Allawi government attain the legitimacy that would be granted by the Iraqi public at the polls. Once a legitimate, elected government is in Iraq, Zarqawi's insurgency becomes a bandit action of head-lopping psychopaths. Zarqawi and the Ba'ath must stop this at all costs.
One should notice that the targets of the jihadists are primarily Iraqi, both civilian and governmental. In a major strategic shift, Zarqawi and his people have shifted attention away from the American forces and towards their political rivals in Iraq: the Allawi government and their allies in the collegium of Shi'a clerics led by Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani and the Kurds. Zarqawi's junior partners in the Ba'ath Party are attempting to make a grand comeback in similar fashion, and there is a temporary alliance of convenience between the two scorpions.
This is a huge change from the Spring, when the predominate theme of the insurgency was open military conflict with the United States forces. During that period, a tacit alliance with the rebel clerica Moqtada al-Sadr assisted the Ba'ath-Jihadi coalition in preventing a concentration of American force against their units in Al-Anbar and other govenorates in the Sunni Triangle. However, unlike Zarqawi, Sadr was clumsy and concentrated his forces in Sadr City and Najaf. Each time, Sadr's Mahdi Army was defeated in detail in a one-sided slaughter at the hands of trained American infantry.
Sadr is out of the game, and the supply lines to Basra, Umm Qasr, and the port of Kuwait City are primarily secure. Where we stand now is that in the runup to the January elections, it will be in the interest of al-Sistani, Allawi, and the Kurdish leadership to resolve the question of Fallujah and its outlying environs.
Fallujah is not quite a "no-go" area. We probe in there from time to time with small units, collecting intelligence. Informants give our local recce people an idea of where the bad guys are meeting, and we tend to bomb them into nonexistence. This happens to a lot of new people who show up in Fallujah to join the jihad. The stories in the paper about JDAM strikes that we read every couple of days are the results of thousands of hours of intelligence and database comparison. Zarqawi has lost some of his best people and top recruits this way. Whether or not Zarqawi himself is in Fallujah is relatively unimportant; he will be captured in time. It was reported today that a new outfit, Unit 626, has been tasked with this mission. Of greater import is the fact that the decision has been made to enter Fallujah and eliminate (with extreme prejudice, I might add...) the jihadist forces. The Ba'ath will be shown lenience, as I believe Allawi is amenable to a deal with native Sunni Iraqis (after all, the demand for Iraqi oil isn't going down, and there's money to be made for everyone). But the foreign fighters will be ruthlessly exterminated, not only by Marine infantry (now surrounding the community), but also by specially trained Iraqi Special Forces and Kurdish Pesh Mergha irregulars.
It is important to understand what John Kerry fails to: what is going on in Fallujah and environs is called "shaping the battlefield". By continually attacking concentrations of jihadi we disrupt their training and pick off important leadership targets. Thus, when the decision to attack the city is made, the jihadi will have a much lower level of leadership capability. It is hoped (not assured, nothing about urban combat is assured except high casualties) that a Marine/Army/ISF assault force will be able to fold up most of the city with relatively light casualties before having to tackle the jihadi-infested side of town that abuts the Euphrates River. Zarqawi can't be everywhere, and I suspect that he's more the psychotic killer type than the military genius.
As to when the city will be assaulted? Sooner, rather than later. The jihadist assumption is that Bush would never countenance an assault on a jihadi stronghold before an election. I beg to differ. The counterintuitive thing to do is to attack prior to the election in the hopes of catching the jihadi off-guard. Recall that William Tecumseh Sherman's capture of Atlanta guaranteed Lincoln's reelection in 1864. This is a similar political environment.
Surprises are in store for the jihadi, I suspect. But they won't come without a price.