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I have comments about both parts of this post.
Theory – very well thought out. I particularly like your points about Viet Nam, that much of the argument about that conflict have to do with different theatres and different goals within the theatre as being a big stumbling block among those who discuss this war. These explain, for example, why I think the US won in Viet Nam and you (if I read correctly) think we lost. I think we agree on the events pretty much, just we evaluate them differently for the reasons you explain. The only difference we may have on fact is suggested by your question: “Would a focus on a different approach to counterinsurgency given the South Vietnamese government enough breathing room to stand on its own?” I believe that the RVN’s had gotten to the point of standing on their own until the Kennedy arms embargo killed them, while you apparently do not.

Practice – here our disagreements are more substantial. You seem to see a single theatre war, while I see a two or even three theatre war. My theatres are:
1. al Qaeda and other Salafi-oriented terrorists
2. the failed world of Islam (not identical to the ENTIRE world of Islam, but not conterminous with the Middle East either)
3. A left over remnant of the old Marxist left.

The way I see these relating is that 1. is an offshoot of 2., but which now has allied with various diverse groups which include criminals, non-Islamic terrorists etc. 3. Has no love for either the US or groups 1. and 2., but hopes to get along with 2., and avoid getting in the main line of fire between the US and 1. This latter group is found mostly in Western Europe (ironically much less so in Eastern Europe), parts of South America, China, and some parts of the US itself. The interesting thing about this group is its lack of cohesion on many levels.

Where we agree is that Afghanistan was a part of 1. and that we have completed only the first step there.

I put Iraq in the second theatre, with Iran and SA. I think that Iraq was a reasonable choice as a starting point for getting started in that theatre, but I think that either of the other two might have worked. The advantage of Iraq is that it was an easier first shot than Iran, and that getting the Shi’ites on board to any extent at all in Iraq was easier than starting in Iran. This way we let the internal opponents in Iran do the heavy lifting, although we will have to be ready to help them if they ask us. Obviously SA is more on the direct route to stopping the growth of theatre 1. while also being an important part of 2. The big danger with starting there is that Mecca is there. I think our best shot at handling SA gracefully is to generate enough internal pressure there that the Frankenstein’s monster kills its creator while we watch from the sidelines. If this fails to materialise, we move on the plan B.

I also think we disagree about the facts of how things have gone in Iraq, but these are issues of perception and how we read the various news sources, and I think time will make it clear which of us is right on this.

As to the future, here is what I think needs to be done in all three theatres:
In the First theatre:
Prioritise and shut down the following training areas: Pansky Gorge , Waziristan and any others that we find in Syria, Iran etc.

Deal with the command and control groups in the West. (This overlaps with the second theatre.) Here, oddly enough, France seems to be leading the way in the EU with their recent deportation of radical Islamist clerics.

In the second theatre, work on reducing the attraction that Arabic leaders feel towards terrorism and anti West or anti-Israel propaganda as a protection for their own short comings. Several states in North Africa may be helpful here.

In the third, I think that Wesley Clark’s recent analysis of how America defeated the Soviet Union is on the mark, and that we will have to continue to push the contradictions on the various parties that are still entranced by the Marxist fallacies. This requires engagement with Russia and the former Warsaw pact nations to keep Russia on track and to try to minimize backsliding in parts of the old SU. We need to work China off against North Korea, and we will at some point need to deal with Castro and his few remaining Western friends.

There are other things that need doing as well: fix the UN which is hopelessly flawed IMHO. Try to avert the collapse of the EU, work on the India/Pakistan relationship etc. But we need to fix theatres 1 now, 2 soon and 3 eventually before we can really concentrate on anything else.



Very thoughtful replies. I hope I do them justice.

First, on the "multiple fronts" issue. I've rarely found someone who thought that the Afghanistan invasion was a bad idea--assuming we completed the necessary work. Our theater strategy seems more focused on knocking over an enemy than making sure that he stays down. US policy in Afghanistan is inexcusable on this point, because (1) we did almost no follow-through after the Soviet withdrawal, so we share the blame for Afghanistan turning into an al Qaeda base; and (2) the Taliban and al Qaeda remnants are undoubtedly our enemy, and undoubtedly the ones responsible for 9/11 (al Qaeda for doing the deed, and the Taliban for sheltering and supporting them).

Iraq, on the other hand, was, as you said, a domino that one could argue needed to fall if you wanted to transform the Middle East, including Iran. However, unless there's a big change in the works, we're not engineering that result. Far from it: we've given the most anti-Western elements in Iran an excuse to purge the ballot of reformist candidates and crack down on dissidents. The possibility raised this week that they might have been behind a massive con job via Chalabi is, of course, reason for pause about our approach so far.

That's not to say that Iraq is a lost cause. What got a lot of people horrified about Bush's speech at Carlisle, however, is that he didn't say anything to indicate that our strategy needed adjusting. He may have been trying to impress people with facts at his fingertips, but current force levels are way below what's needed. And, as I said in my latest post, the number of troops aren't the whole story. It's the operational strategy itself that's missing the mark, too.

I'm also sympathetic with Clark's position in his Washington Monthly article this month. Containment of Iraq was working; invasion (at least the way we did it) has failed to topple the Middle Eastern dominos; in any case, the dominos would never topple quickly anyway. If, as I argued elsewhere, we had focused on Ansar al-Islam, we'd be in a different situation in Iraq today. We'd have rid ourselves of another enemy, allowed the work in Afghanistan to continue, let the UN inspectors finish their work, and position more troops in the theater if needed. If an invasion of Iraq had proven necessary, fine. But there was no proof of a threat, no urgency, no clear picture of how the invasion would lead to regional transformation, no appraisal of the risks, no plan B if plan A didn't work. We gambled far too much for far too little stakes, and so far, we've lost.

It's not impossible to salvage. But it's definitely time to push the uninformed blowhards in the press and the US government to the sidelines and start discussing more realistic, tangible options like the ones you outlined.

It may be, in the short term, painful to do, but if I understand you correctly, I agree that we may have to pull back our defensive perimeter in Iraq temporarily. Rather than doing a poor job everywhere, we need some version of the "spreading stain" model of counterinsurgency a la,/i> Sir Robert Thompson, adjusted to fit local conditions. But we need people who know what they're doing, both in terms of this kind of warfare and this country in particular.

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