America’s Iraq: Wrong war or wrong warfare?

Ben Goodchild 10 November 2007

What has long baffled me about the ongoing military campaign in Iraq is the constant use of the term “insurgent”. Throughout history the term has referred to a person fighting the established government in an attempt to improve living standards. With such a group, I take no issue. They are pursuing a directed campaign for change – albeit violent and outside a legal system. But what I have an issue with is this same term being applied to those who engage in orgies of civilian massacre. Butchering those who are the easiest to attack, those beleaguered souls who are attempting to carve out an existence in the foxhole they used to call home cannot be regarded as part of a disciplined or targeted insurgency – it is terrorism.

Bizarrely though it is not the ‘terrorists’ of Iraq, as they should be referred to, who proclaim themselves with the title ‘insurgent’. It is the media and governments of the world, particularly the United States of America who take this conscious decision to ensnare every act of violence, no matter how unrelated to the American led occupation, under the banner of an anti-American attack. This article is not a tirade against America or the war in Iraq as has become fashionable, yet it is impossible to ignore the idiocy and lack of direction surrounding the response to the post 9/11 terrorist threat. Indeed the same flaws in the understanding and appreciation of the terrorist threat that existed before the invasion continue to pollute judgment today.

Caught up in its own rhetoric the US government believes it is fighting an insurgency in Iraq and as a result it is not only ineffective but is actually playing into the hands of the terrorists with whom they are currently engaged in combat. Far from being a quasi-military organization as Al-Qaeda were before the invasion of Afghanistan, terrorist groups across the Middle East, under the direction of Osama bin Laden, have evolved into small cells holding only loose affiliations with one another. And, as Bin Laden predicted, the West has been far too slow to react. Indeed US forces in Iraq are still trying to sweep and clear areas with air strikes and massive troop surges in an attempt to disrupt ‘an insurgency’, instead of using Special Forces and counter-terrorism units in small scale, high value operations to target specific cells.

Moreover, US commanders seem to have an almost infantile fascination with the obliteration of training camps and ‘regional’ commanders – continually failing to realise that they do not equate to air bases and generals in conventional wars. In the case of the former, terrorists have shown great ability to adapt, with new commanders emerging almost immediately. And in the latter, have maintained organisational cohesion by switching from large complexes to small scale residential zones. Moreover, due to their inordinate focus on such objectives and the over use of air power, the US is also losing the faith of the Iraqi people through mistargeted weapons and accidental misfire. In essence the US is fighting the wrong war against an enemy who is ten steps ahead.

Instead of creating a huge army to occupy the world, America and the entire Western World must reassess its strategy. As a brotherhood of nations, they must engage in a far broader and more targeted campaign against global terror as it did against Communism in the last generation. Now as then, the West will not be victorious through military power alone, she must also demonstrate to states in the Middle East the strength of her economic and cultural systems, engage with nations and leaders she despises and above all shed the cloak of oppression she has earned through two botched wars. For policy makers in Washington such words currently equate with weakness and failure, but only through a re-examination of the post Iraq world and a swallowing of pride can the West begin to turn the tide against global terror and emerge victorious.

Ben Goodchild