May 13, 2004 | Commentary on Middle East
President Bush's political opponents are trying to make electoral hay over the Abu Ghraib prison nightmare. That's predictable. But it's unfortunate, too, as the political broadsides tend to obscure the fact that -- after a couple of tough weeks -- things are going well militarily and politically in Iraq.
Worse, sowing politically motivated seeds of doubt about our wartime leaders discourages our troops and encourages the enemy -- which has once again revealed its true face in the ghastly execution of Nicholas Berg. If we're not careful here on the home front, we'll steal defeat in Iraq right from the jaws of victory -- just as in Vietnam, where the war was lost not militarily, but politically, here at home.
Time for a little stock-taking. First, let's look at the Abu Ghraib scandal.
On the battlefield, meanwhile, the situation has improved. The military's patient strategy of dealing with Fallujah, Najaf, Karbala and rebel Shi'a cleric Moqtada al Sadr has paid off to date.
We're fighting the insurgency on our terms. We've brought Iraqi soldiers into the fight with the Fallujah Brigade and gathered allies among 100 or so senior Shi'a clerics who publicly oppose Sadr's radical policies and use of mosques as military bases. These are all very positive developments.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military continues to soften up the enemy with raids by ground troops and precision strikes, to gather intelligence from agents, satellites and drones, and to prepare the battlefield, should an all-out urban assault become necessary.
By avoiding bloody, house-to-house fighting in places like
Fallujah and Najaf, we have saved the lives of both innocent
civilians and American soldiers.
To win politically and militarily, the insurgents need to fight. Inactivity is their enemy. By not going whole-hog into the cities to fight them, Coalition soldiers have left the insurgents no option but to abandon their defensive positions to engage us.
And every time the enemy comes out to do battle, they lose -- badly. Scores of insurgents, terrorists and foreign fighters have been killed in suicidal raids on American forces over the past few weeks. Patience is a virtue in life and sometimes in war.
On the political front, the United Nations is fully engaged in setting up the transitional government that will hold power until a full government can be chosen in national elections early next year. Soon, there will be an Iraqi face on a new Iraqi government, and Iraq will be a step closer to full sovereignty.
Despite the lingering strife borne of Fallujah, Najaf and Abu Ghraib, the situation in Iraq is overwhelmingly positive -- and improving. With the exception of a few hotspots, the California-sized country is pacified and moving in the right direction.
Clearly, though, our job there isn't done. Until it is, America's elected officials and other second-guessers might consider spending more time and effort pondering how to win the war and less time and rhetoric trying to turn national setbacks to political advantage.
Peter Brookes is a senior fellow for national security affairs at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire