Kenneth Pollack had a thought-provoking piece in the New York Times on Friday ("Five Ways to Win Back Iraq" Op Ed p. A17 7/1/05) in which he proposed five strategic policy shifts to the Bush administration in Iraq. While I don't agree that all of his suggestions are feasible, his first principle, "Think Safety First" seems the wisest advice anyone has offered since the conflict began. According to Pollack, the entire mission should be shifted from an offensive to a security posture, rather than sending the Marines on "search and destroy" missions Coalition forces should be reassigned solely to protect the lives and property of the Iraqi people from insurgent mayhem. This would have the dual effect of increasing the prestige of the interim government and draining political capital from the insurgents, who would lose any pretensions of being Davids fighting the American Goliath and be forced into the role mere thugs working harder and harder to injure ordinary Iraqis. The urgency of this policy shift is underscored by yesterday's kidnapping of Egypt's ambassador to Iraq- the interim government can have no international legitimacy if it can not guarantee the safety of foreign delegates.
The Bush administration seems to be under the delusion that aggressive tactics will retard the operational strength of the insurgents. This notion is based on a wild overemphasis of the military aspect of the counterinsurgency and a serious underestimation of its political dimension. The number of insurgents is not fixed, it will vary depending upon the political appeal of their "cause." The technological and material threshold of insurgent needs is so low that Coalition offensives can do little to destroy assets that may not be easily replaced. Offensives do more harm than good, as however many insurgents may be captured or killed the drama of their defying US power increases the appeal of the insurgency while any neutral bystanders that are killed in the fighting do further damage to the image of the Coalition and the interim government.