Passport

Can the U.S. defeat the Iraqi insurgency?

STR/AFP/Getty Images Donald Stoker, professor of strategy and policy for the U.S. Naval War College’s Monterey Program, argues in a new web exclusive for FP that Vietnam taught many Americans the wrong lesson: that determined guerrilla fighters are invincible. History shows that insurgents rarely win, he says, and Iraq should be no different. But just ...

604790_insurgent_Iraq_05.jpg

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Stoker, professor of strategy and policy for the U.S. Naval War College’s Monterey Program, argues in a new web exclusive for FP that Vietnam taught many Americans the wrong lesson: that determined guerrilla fighters are invincible. History shows that insurgents rarely win, he says, and Iraq should be no different. But just when the Bush administration has finally developed a realistic strategy, the bottom is dropping out of the American public's support for the war. Winning against an entrenched insurgency takes time, but time is the one thing the United States doesn't have. We're talking about an estimated 8-11 years, not the six more months that the pundits love to bat around.

Stoker may be right. The United States is wealthy enough to foot the bill and large enough to bear the casualties in Iraq, even if the strain on the military is causing serious problems with recruitment, retention, and maintenance. And Bush acknowledged last week that he's learned a few things from his many prior mistakes in Iraq. It's certainly encouraging that Gen. David Petraeus, who had great success in Mosul early on and then went on to literally write the book on counterinsurgency, will soon be running the war effort in Iraq.



STR/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Stoker, professor of strategy and policy for the U.S. Naval War College’s Monterey Program, argues in a new web exclusive for FP that Vietnam taught many Americans the wrong lesson: that determined guerrilla fighters are invincible. History shows that insurgents rarely win, he says, and Iraq should be no different. But just when the Bush administration has finally developed a realistic strategy, the bottom is dropping out of the American public’s support for the war. Winning against an entrenched insurgency takes time, but time is the one thing the United States doesn’t have. We’re talking about an estimated 8-11 years, not the six more months that the pundits love to bat around.

Stoker may be right. The United States is wealthy enough to foot the bill and large enough to bear the casualties in Iraq, even if the strain on the military is causing serious problems with recruitment, retention, and maintenance. And Bush acknowledged last week that he’s learned a few things from his many prior mistakes in Iraq. It’s certainly encouraging that Gen. David Petraeus, who had great success in Mosul early on and then went on to literally write the book on counterinsurgency, will soon be running the war effort in Iraq.

But it may be too late even for America’s top practitioner of counterinsurgency to reverse an ugly deterioration in recent months. Plus, U.S. troops are stuck in the middle of a sectarian bloodbath, which, as Stoker acknowledges, makes the situation greatly more complicated. And finally, what’s the definition of success? Defeating the insurgency doesn’t necessarily mean that democracy is just around the corner.

What do you think? Read the piece, and email Passport with your reaction.

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration of a captain's hat with a 1980s era Pepsi logo and USSR and U.S. flag pins.

The Doomed Voyage of Pepsi’s Soviet Navy

A three-decade dream of communist markets ended in the scrapyard.

Demonstrators with CASA in Action and Service Employees International Union 32BJ march against the Trump administration’s immigration policies in Washington on May 1, 2017.

Unionization Can End America’s Supply Chain Crisis

Allowing workers to organize would protect and empower undocumented immigrants critical to the U.S. economy.

The downtown district of Wilmington, Delaware, is seen on Aug. 19, 2016.

How Delaware Became the World’s Biggest Offshore Haven

Kleptocrats, criminals, and con artists have all parked their illicit gains in the state.