Testimony

A Relatively Promising Counterinsurgency War: Assessing Progress in Iraq

Michael E. O’Hanlon

SUMMARY

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Ranking Member, Other Members of the Committee, it is an honor to appear today to discuss the most momentous—and, increasingly, the most politically contentious—U.S. military operation since Vietnam. We are clearly still at war in Iraq, and the Bush administration deserves criticism for its words and actions that suggested otherwise—Mr. Bush’s May 1 triumphant landing on the aircraft carrier, Vice President Cheney’s rosy pre-war language about Iraqis greeting GIs with bouquets and dancing, Secretary Rumsfeld’s predictions that only a small postwar occupation force would be needed, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz’s predictions that Iraqi oil would quickly be able to finance most of the country’s reconstruction. That said, in my judgment the administration is basically correct that the overall effort in Iraq is succeeding. By the standards of counterinsurgency warfare, most factors, though admittedly not all, appear to be working to our advantage. While one would be mistaken to assume rapid or easy victory, Mr. Rumsfeld’s leaked memo last week probably had it about right when he described the war as a “long, hard slog” that we are nonetheless quite likely to win.

From my personal perspective, one way of assessing the overall success of the campaign in Iraq is to compare it to what I predicted in an article in the journal Orbis last winter before the conflict began. In that essay, using various tools of military modeling and combat simulation, I estimated that total U.S. losses could plausibly range from 100 to 5,000. At present, our losses are less than 350; even if we tragically continue to lose soldiers at the rate of the last six months for another one to two years, we will remain on the lower end of that range. By the standards of warfare, that would still be a rather good outcome, assuming of course that we are able to achieve our fundamental goal of a stable and non-aggressive Iraq in the end.

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