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Austin Bay
Austin Bay
3 Feb 2016
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Obama and Iraq's Emerging Victory


The BBC Website headline, appearing on Jan. 31 as Iraq's provincial elections concluded, read: "Peace and Quiet Mark Iraq Polls."

How praiseworthy, BBC, I muttered — a restrained headline touting the relative absence of violence.

And a decent job of planning and execution, Iraqi Army, I thought as I scanned the BBC's report. The scan elicited a string of memories. Civilians anywhere are always easy targets — that's why al-Qaida, Saddam's Baathist holdouts, and the gangs we call the Mahdi Army and "special groups" still target Iraqi civilians. It's why Pakistani terrorists struck Mumbai — the Indian Army is a hard target, a Mumbai street vendor isn't.

But voters traipsing to the polls offer terrorists particularly easy targets ripe for mass murder, which in turn generates the sensational headlines terrorists seek. Protecting civilians on sidewalks entering and exiting easily accessible locations (i.e., polling places) was one of the biggest problems confronting U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces during 2004 as they prepared for Iraq's historic January 2005 elections.

I know from personal experience — the plans team I served with in Iraq struggled with this complex problem. The courage of the Iraqi people won that election, as ink-stained fingers became the symbol of democratic will in the face of personal danger.

Electoral peace and quiet in January 2009 told me Iraqi police and military forces conducted an intricate nationwide security operation — another sign of organizational maturity, improving intelligence and increasing professional confidence.

The election, however, is much more than a significant headline and a solid security operation. The election demonstrates rather dramatically that Iraq's process of political maturation continues. Remember, the first post-Saddam vote took place only four years ago, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government formed in May 2006. In this election, voters punished several sectarian parties, tossing the rascals out because they hadn't performed. In several provinces, Iraqi secular political parties did much better, which is a sharp blow to extremist Shias and their Iranian financiers.

The election is also an implicit rebuke — delivered by the Iraqi people — of posturing defeatists like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who declared Iraq a lost war and a hopeless cause.

Perhaps the commentators who claim Arabs can't handle democracy will reconsider their position.

In the next week or so, I hope to read this headline: "Sen. Reid, we didn't lose. And there is hope in Iraq, President Obama, because there has been significant change. Now don't blow it just because you ran on a platform of retreat."

Not a headline? It ought to be.

Obama is a very lucky new president — he has an emerging victory at hand. Securing it and reinforcing it will enhance his chances of achieving "Lincoln-esque" stature. The Iraqi people have earned their democracy. Historical accusations of "abandonment" and "self-defeat" don't burnish a presidential legacy.

Operation Charge of the Kings, launched in March 2008, showed that the Iraqi Army was able to plan and conduct large-scale combat and counter-insurgency operations. The U.S. and coalition forces, however, provided air, intelligence and logistical support.

In many respects, Charge of the Knights provided an example of what "strategic overwatch" looks like, the where U.S. air, intelligence and logistics assets aid Iraqi planned, led and manned security operations. "Strategic overwatch" is a delicate, multi-year process, "a wind-down" (force withdrawal) phase that could include a sudden "build-up" (reinforcement). "Strategic overwatch" is complicated — it requires diplomacy, economic and political engagement, and steadying leadership.

Terror campaigns and insurgencies end with diminishing codas of violence. Peace and quiet — prevalent during this past election — instantly disappear when a terrorist tosses a grenade. The Iraqi government has improved markedly in its ability to handle internal violence, but troublemaking by neighbors like Syria and Iran remain a huge threat.

In Fargo, N.D., early last July, Obama began a "war flip-flop" by suggesting he might "refine" his Iraq policy. He needs to start refining right now — and assure the Iraqis they will not be abandoned. The sharpest refinement would be to accept the challenges of "strategic overwatch" and help ensure a region-changing and potentially century-shaping victory.

To find out more about Austin Bay, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



1 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;...Senator Reid is correct... Iraq is a lost cause...It may seem quiet, and we may own their oil... They may make their own peace with each other, as they have always done... But we will never know peace there, or be certain of their oil until they get rid of the puppet government, and establish some tyranny...What we have going for us is that they crave peace as much as we do, this people, that† is, rather than our government... What we have against us is essentially what the Mongols had against them, and the Turks had against them, even with being Muslims, they were still foreigners in Iraq, and as foreigners could not establish any long term legitimacy... We have an even greater impediment as Christians pushing an immoral economy and Western Law, in preference to their law which has served them better than Western Law has served us... We might influence their choice of dictators... We would stand a better chance of corrupting who ever becomes dictator than in supporting a government of our choice which will bound to be a constant drain of military resources, and a price the tax payers must suffer to profit the Oil companies... The danger to us is simple... We could and should disengage before withdrawal... At some point if we decide to get out, we cannot even count on the Iraqi military to not turn on us... Look for some battle of the Little Big Horn... Disengagement is more dangerous than invasion, especially if we find we are over committed else where... And, it all goes to point out how crazy, and ill advised was our being there... We should never have beat them completely... We should have used their authority, and gradually let them reassert sovereignity... We can only continue with the mistakes we have made until we run out of will or money...It is to late to not invade...It is too late to not make the mistakes we have made...Now, we have to get rid of stupid ideological influences, and begin to think clearly...We have to admit defeat, which is not a victory to them, but an inevitable victory to Islam which can never, ever give up... These people should be our friends... We have too much in common, and they are tenacious beyond belief... If We have to admit defeat, it is the defeat of our political system, that the people and the military could not resist the will of their so called leaders... The government never sought consensus...It thought it could do without consensus... If they had asked for consent, they would have discovered there was a serious group of people and a majority of educated people who thought going in there was a terrible idea... It was not justified, and after the fact is the wrong time to look for consensus... War is a serious business... It demands consent because the commitment is open ended... The consent is not there... No matter what the cost, this country should get out...Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Wed Feb 4, 2009 8:47 AM
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