Someday, when the war in Iraq has become a historical episode, we will tally up the lessons learned -- if, that is, we ever learn any. Here are two worth mastering because failing to do so probably means we will no longer exist.
1. Nation-building in a war zone is nuts. Nation-building in an Islamic war zone is suicide.
When the United States embarked on its most successful cases of nation-building in Germany and Japan, both countries lay in ruins, their cities and infrastructure devastated, their populations decimated. These appalling conditions worked wonders toward opening both countries to all manner of Americana: democracy, deNazification, demilitarization and, in Japan's case, not just a constitution practically written by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, but also baseball. In other words, Total War was followed by Total Pacification.
In Iraq, we have fought a Limited War for Limited Pacification, which has resulted in a perpetual, if limited, war zone. At about $200 million a day, this war may not sound very "limited," but consider where "Sunni insurgents," "Shiite militias" and assorted thugs and jihadi groups go at night after a hard day's maiming and killing and IED-ing. They go home to safe houses. Now, ask yourself whether, say, a George Patton or a Curtis LeMay would allow them to wake up again, chow down breakfast and return to maim, kill and IED another day.
The answer is no, not on your life. Such generals would have seen to it that the enemy's home, his neighborhood, his entire town if necessary, was destroyed, doubtless killing innocent (and not innocent) civilians in the process. Total War. It's ugly and barbaric, but it leads to Total Pacification, not to mention Total Victory, which is supposed to be the point. Limited War is ugly and barbaric, but it just leads on and on. And where is the moral purity in war unending?
The Limited Warrior struggles for the answer, and comes up with ... Hearts and Minds: The superpower that doesn't want to use its super powers will instead make everyone like it a lot. To that end, Gen. David Petraeus, our top commander in Iraq, has ordered troops out of their well-fortified bases into "outposts" in Iraq's most dangerous enclaves. (One such outpost was recently struck by suicide bombers, killing nine Americans and wounding 20.) Often described as the linchpin of Gen. Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy, this outpost-plan is supposed to "establish regular contact with Iraqi civilians and win their allegiance," according to The New York Times.