My wife called my attention to a fascinating article titled “Al Qaeda in Iraq” in the 9/10/07 Weekly Standard. In it, Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute explains the background and Iraqi perspective on Al Qaeda. I have no idea if it’s accurate but it sounds erudite and learned.

Have to stay in Iraq
The article argues that we need to keep large numbers of troops in Iraq for an extended period because that is what is needed to win there and because the Iraqis cannot do it for themselves. But if we leave prematurely, Al Qaeda Iraq will likely reestablish themselves. I refer you to the article, which I recommend, for the details of how Kagan persuades the reader of the correct analysis of the current and recent past situation and the best plan for the future, which is to keep doing what we’re doing.

But I want to focus on one key sentence on the last page of the article.

It seems doubtful that Muslim communities—even those that reject the takfiri [al Qaeda] ideology—are capable of standing up to the terrorists on their own or with only the support of intelligence-driven raids against terrorist leaders and isolated cells.

Why are the Muslim communities in Iraq not capable of standing up to the terrorists on their own?

Are they outnumbered by the terrorists?

No. The article makes it quite clear that the Iraqi population by and large does not care for al Qaeda. Their actions in turning against al Qaeda in the last year support than analysis. According to the article, only a tiny minority are in favor of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Are the normal Iraqi people outgunned by al Qaeda?

Nope. We supply our Iraqi allies with weapons and support from our own ground troops, Navy, and Air Force. Al Qaeda cannot come within a mile of matching that.

So exactly what is the problem?

In Vietnam, we heard this same story. But ultimately, we discovered the South Vietnamese could stand up to the North Vietnamese. They had the numbers, the weapons, and the training. They simply refused to fight for their country for whatever reason and they were defeated by their poorer, but more determined, northern neighbors and fellow Vietnamese.

On the other hand, our support seemed to work in El Salvador. In past years, it also seemed to work in Germany, Greece, Japan, Italy, the Philippines, Obviously it depends on how its done. Indeed, Kagan says, “Each response [to terrorism around the world] must be tailored to circumstances.”

Although Kagan’s article is quite detailed with regard to most of its points, it provided little evidence for the claim that the good Muslims in Iraq are not capable of standing up to the terrorists. The absence of such evidence in an otherwise well-supported argument makes me suspicious that the reason is the statement is simply not true.

Imprecise but necessary
I don’t think it can be stated one way or the other definitively. In Vietnam, the truth only emerged after we had tried for decades to get the South Vietnamese to defend themselves. Obviously, in that case, we had failed to wean them early enough. They became like adult children who still live at home, endlessly taking community college courses and paying no room and board to their parents.

On the other hand, we lost 58,000 men in Vietnam. Clearly, we need to err in the other direction if the correct amount of support is hard to pinpoint. We have already given the Iraqi people four years and nearly 4,000 lives. Not to mention $600 million.

Training is not enough, especially endless training. There have to be negative consequences for not responding to the training appropriately. There are a couple of sayings in football coaching that are applicable.

• What you tolerate you encourage.
• What you demand, you get.

We have tolerated foot dragging by the Iraqis. We have not gotten adequate progress toward self-sufficiency because we have requested rather than demanded it. Enough.

Put our troops in the areas of Iraq where the local people do the most for themselves. And pull them out of the areas that want us to do everything for them. Allah, and the U.S., help those who help themselves. That should make it clear to all the people of Iraq that we are there to help, but only to help those who help themselves, too.

I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions.

John T. Reed