Iraqi Victory, Defeat for McCain?

Austin Bay

7/23/2008 12:01:00 AM - Austin Bay

It is ironic, but victory in Iraq could mean defeat for John McCain.

Crown the lucky Barack Obama, bury the courageous McCain -- what a fate for a warrior senator who has played a key leadership role in Iraq's emerging victory.

I'll repeat that description: "emerging victory." Terror campaigns and insurgencies end with diminishing codas of violence.

In a recent column, I referenced the "Strategic Overwatch" video that appeared on the Internet the first week of June. "Overwatch" is a military term. At the tactical level, one soldier moves, the other "covers" him (overwatches), ready to suppress enemy fire. At the strategic level, allied nations "cover" one another.

"Strategic Overwatch" is also a term I encountered when I served in the plans section of Multi-National Corps-Iraq in 2004 -- a desirable strategic condition I thought the coalition and Iraqis could achieve.

"Strategic Overwatch" is a limited victory for a United States willing to remain a reliable Iraqi ally. "Strategic Overwatch" protects the much more enthusiastic Iraqi version of victory. After his May 6, 2008, speech at Quantico, Va., I asked Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations Hamid Al Bayati what would constitute victory for the Iraqi people. He responded viscerally, "Every day we have democracy is a victory for the Iraqi people."

How blunt. The Iraqis have earned their democracy, and we owe them a solid alliance.

The video summarizes "Strategic Overwatch" in this manner:

Assumptions: The United States is in Iraq for the long haul; Iraqi political progress continues.

Time to Develop: Could emerge by mid-to-late 2009, full-fledged by 2011.

Related Events: Iraqi Army continues to re-arm and modernize; Iraq and the United States agree to a "long-range cooperation agreement" the Iraqi people see as advantageous to Iraq; ... Iraq begins to attract steady and sustained private investment; members of the Arab League begin forging stronger political and economic ties with Iraq.

Effect on Average Iraqi: Increased GDP ultimately means a wealthier society; Iraqi neighborhoods revive; Baghdad's business community revives, and the city's nightlife returns.

Effect on Region: Increased internal trouble in Iran as Iranian people object to the corrupt mullocracy and to the lack of democracy in Iran; Iraqi-Turkish relations continue to strengthen; Iraq becomes more assertive in Middle East politics and economic affairs; more Shia Arab strife occurs in Lebanon (stoked by Iran) with the goal of distracting Iraqi Shias and-or "radicalizing" Iraqi foreign policy; Jordan re-emerges as a staunch ally of Iraq.

Eight weeks after the scenario hit the Web, we should change "could emerge" to "is emerging." Credit the Iraqis with accelerating the process. Operation Charge of the Knights (March-May 2008), which most so-called media experts immediately labeled the "Basra blunder," demonstrated that the Iraqi army's operational capabilities had improved and that the Maliki government could astutely turn security success into political solidification. Iraqi gains mean a significant reduction in coalition combat forces could come by late 2009, with complete Iraqi combat responsibility by late 2010.

So why the irony? Barack Obama wanted to withdraw because Harry Reid and the Democratic Party insisted we'd lost. As "Strategic Overwatch" develops, the United States can begin reducing its combat role because we are winning -- and "we" includes the Iraqis. McCain ought to reap the reward, but given the national media's creampuff treatment of Obama, the next "instant truth" will be "see, we can withdraw."

But before Obama declares peace in our time, consider the "Effect on Region" paragraph. The Iraqis want an alliance. That means Washington must be prepared to back Iraq in a confrontation with Iran. We know McCain can handle that dangerous test. In the maelstrom moment when an Obama-advocated rapid military withdrawal would have devastated the Iraqis, McCain stood firm.