Decision in the West?

One of our occasional military correspondents writes regarding his recent tour in Iraq;

I’m one of the Army officers who’s written you from time to time about various things. I returned from my extended deployment to Iraq late last year, so at the micro-level I saw things improve dramatically from fall 2006 to fall 2007. And of course I’ve followed events closely since coming home. While it may be too early to schedule the ticker tape parade, I think recent statements by the CIA director and yesterday’s article in the Wall Street Journal by Frederick and Kimberly Kagan point to what a lot of people are feeling: that we’re on the cusp of a major victory against Al Qaeda in Iraq. I’d like to offer up a parallel that I think aligns with many other themes you use.

Last year I finished a great Civil War book by Albert Castel titled Decision in the West. It described Sherman’s campaign to capture Atlanta throughout the summer and fall of 1864. What I found interesting was that the campaign was originally conceived to complement what was intended to be the “decision” (decisive operations) in the East by Grant’s forces then operating against Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. As the year wore on with little progress in Virginia, horrific casualties, and an election looming against emboldened, conciliatory Copperhead Democrats, the Union Cause was in great jeopardy. Grant, bogged down around Petersburg, wrote Sherman that “the decision would have to come in the West.” After frenetic maneuvering and a few relatively small-scale but decisive battles, Sherman was at last able to capture Atlanta. Union morale was restored and the war was over approximately six months later. No one expected at the beginning of the Atlanta campaign that it would be the year’s decisive operation and the death knell of the Confederacy.

I think this is illustrative of what has taken place in Iraq against Al Qaeda. For years now we have been expecting that the decision against Al Qaeda would occur in the East, in Afghanistan. OIF was expected to complement world-wide efforts against state-sponsored terrorism, but not to defeat Al Qaeda per se. As it has transpired, however, it turns out that the decision against Al Qaeda has occurred in the West – in Iraq, both physically and morally, with global ramifications that we will be assessing and (hopefully) exploiting for the next few years. Anyone who cannot comprehend or refuses to acknowledge this is betraying a great inflexibility of mind or duplicitious nature.

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