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DEFEAT MADE IN WASHINGTON
by Amir Taheri
Asharq Alawsat
September 14, 2007

While some US politicians claim that the war is lost, a broader analysis of the existential struggle between two visions of the world may provide a different picture.

The trick that the party of defeat uses is simple: reduce the larger struggle to the war in Iraq, then further reduce it to the success or failure of the so-called "surge"; then proceed to show that, despite the presence of 22,000 additional US troops, the terrorists still manage suicide attacks. The conclusion: the war is lost; let's run away as fast as we can!

However, the "surge" as such is not the issue.

There is no doubt that the arrival of additional US troops has helped improve security in parts of Iraq.

Nevertheless, whatever success the "surge" might have had is due to the psychological impact of the decision by President George W Bush to increase the number of US troops rather than cut and run.

The real issue in Iraq, as in all other theatres of the global war against terrorists, has always been one of commitment and resolve, especially on the part of those who have the power to make a difference.

Rather than enter into a debate about the actual number of suicide bombings, let us note some positive developments that no one can deny:

* The Sunni Arab tribal sheikhs in the once unruly Anbar province have decided to come off the fence and take up arms against Al Qaeda, even if this means collaborating with the Americans.

* The principal Arab Sunni armed groups, including the 1920 Brigade, and the Islamic Army of Iraq have switched side by agreeing to work with the Iraqi government against foreign terrorists.

* On the Shiite side, Muqtada Al Sadr has ordered his Mahdi Army to lay down arms for the next six months. Sadr took the decision after dozens of his commanders, former members of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guards, decided to switch to the government side.

* Another Iranian controlled Shi'ite group, known as the Thar Allah (God's Revenge), has also suffered major setbacks with dozens dead and scores captured by the new Iraqi army.

* The British withdrawal from Basra did not lead into a take over by Iran's agents, although both Sadr and Thar Allah did test the waters. Instead, the Iraqi army and police, with support from nationalist Shi'ite groups such as Fadila (Virtue) and the Islamic Council of Iraq, control Iraq's second largest city. The Basra Bloodbath, predicted by some pundits, has not materialised.

* The various political blocs, both Sunni and Shiite that had withdrawn from the Iraqi parliament during its long summer recess, have ended their boycott.

* Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's coalition government has won a new mandate with the reaffirmation of support by three blocs of parties that account for 85 per cent of the seats in the parliament.

* As the parliament prepares for a new session, a full legislative programme tackling key issues such as sharing oil revenues, municipal elections, and federalism, is unveiled.

* Most Arab states have ended their boycott of new Iraq and dispatched diplomatic missions to Baghdad to open embassies. France has also ended its boycott and sent Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to Baghdad with a message of support.

* The United Nations, hoping to raise its profile, is also expected to appoint a new high representative to Baghdad to revive its frozen programmes.

* Anyone visiting Iraq now could take a stroll in the neighbourhoods "re-claimed" from the terrorists, including in places such as Basra where there are no US troops. A trickle of displaced persons is beginning to return to areas that had become wastelands because of gang wars among sectarian groups.

* Religious leaders of Arab Sunni and Shiite communities attending a "National Reconciliation Conference" in Redwaniyah, have denounced sectarianism and pledged support for new Iraq.

* Al Qaeda has had to postpone its promise of formally announcing the creation of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Iraq on three occasions. Last October, Al Qaeda promised it would issue a new currency for its putative "Islamic emirate" and name a "Governing Council". However, those fantasies, however, had to be shelved as Al Qaeda lost its safe havens in a few places in Anbar, Diyala and Salahuddin provinces.

* Judging by the buzz in pro-terror sites in the cyberspace, Al Qaeda is facing recruitment problems for the war in Iraq. One Al Qaeda guru, using the nom de guerre of Sheikh Bassir al-Najdi, recently warned that the organization was unable to replace "lost martyrs" in Iraq. No one knows how many terrorists have been killed in the past six months. However, the buzz in pro-terrorist circles is that a whole generation of Jihadists has been wiped out. The funeral industry in those Arab countries where the Jihadists originate is booming.

* More importantly, perhaps, the number of defectors from Al Qaeda is rising. In Saudi Arabia alone, numbers of former Jihadists in Iraq have surrendered to the authorities and joined a rehabilitation program. Some have appeared on television to repent their criminal deeds in Iraq and urge on the "faithful" to fight Al Qaeda.

* Inside Iraq, Al Qaeda has not been able to replace at least five key commanders killed or captured in the past six months.

What is certain is that the political tide is turning in favour of new Iraq.

As in any war, what counts in this war is the protagonists' states of mind. No war is won with a defeatist discourse.

The "surge" was a political signal that the US did not intend to throw in the towel. That signal persuaded fence sitters in Iraq and, beyond it, the broader Arab world, to take side. Most chose the side of new Iraq against its internal and external foes.

The US and its Iraqi allies cannot be defeated in Iraq. However, defeat could be manufactured in Washington where part of the American elite seeks it in order to win in the domestic political war.

Each time an American political leader speaks of defeat, he encourages the terrorists, discourages allies, signals to fence sitters to look elsewhere, and thus prolongs the war.

It is not twenty-two thousands more or fewer American troops that would determine the outcome of the war in a country the size of France. What could persuade the terrorists and the sectarian gangs that their cause is lost is the perception that behind those 22,000 troops stands a nation, a "superpower" at that, determined not to surrender to terror. A United America can win with even fewer troops, acting as symbols of US commitment. A divided America will lose even if it doubled the number of its troops.

To win in Iraq, the Americans need to end their own partisan war on this issue.

 

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