WASHINGTON, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- Maj. Gen. John Kelly is one of the Marine Corps' most thoughtful and most able leaders.
Many who hope to see the Marine Corps' doctrine of Maneuver Warfare someday become real instead of just words on paper pray he has a bright future. When, as a major, he was commander of Infantry Officers’ Course at Quantico, Va., he did what every Marine school director should do: He hauled all the old, second-generation lesson plans out into the courtyard, poured gasoline on them and burned them. I have known him since that time, and I regard him as a personal friend. In late September, speaking to the San Diego Military Advisory Council, Kelly said: "I left Iraq three years ago last month. I returned a week ago after a two-week visit of getting the lay of the land for my upcoming deployment. It is still a dangerous and foreboding land, but what I experienced personally was amazing and remarkable -- we are winning, we are really winning. No one told me to say that, I saw it for myself."
I have to reply, not so fast, John. I have no doubt the situation Kelly found in Anbar province is much quieter than it was just a short time ago. That means fewer casualties, for which we are all thankful. But in the inherent complexity of a fourth-generation situation, it does not mean we are winning. If we put the improved situation in Anbar in context, we quickly see there is less to it than first meets the eye.
That context begins with the fact Anbar is quieter primarily because of what al-Qaida did, namely alienating its base, not what we did. We enabled the local Sunnis to turn on al-Qaida by ceasing or at least diminishing our attacks on the local population. But if al-Qaida had not blundered, the situation would be about what it had been since the real war started. We have not found a silver bullet for 4GW.
Nor is the war in Iraq a binary conflict, America vs. al-Qaida, although, that is how Washington now portrays it. Al-Qaida is only one of a vast array of non-state actors, fighting for many different kinds of goals. If al-Qaida in Iraq disappeared tomorrow, Iraq would remain chaotic.
The fact that some Sunni tribes have turned on al-Qaida does not mean they like us. It just means we have for the moment become the No. 2 enemy instead of No. 1, or perhaps No. 3, with the Shiites ranking ahead of us. Some think the Sunnis are just getting whatever they can from us as they prepare for another, more bitter round of the Sunni vs. Shiite civil war.
But the biggest reason for saying "not so fast" is that the reduction of violence in Anbar does not necessary point toward the rise of a state in the now-stateless region of Mesopotamia. As I have argued repeatedly in this column and elsewhere, we can only win in Iraq if a new state emerges there. Far from pointing toward that, our new working relationship with some Sunni sheiks points away from it.
(Next: What the sheiks want)
(William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.)