January 1, 2006  

Tipping period

Assessing the next phase in Iraq

American soldiers and strategists in the Vietnam War were forever in search of a “tipping point” that would tilt the balance of forces in Southeast Asia away from the North Vietnamese communists and toward the United States and its South Vietnamese allies. As it happened, and as Vietnam is remembered and mythologized, it was the Tet offensive of 1968 that appeared as a tipping point, but a tipping point that led to defeat.

Vietnam-to-Iraq analogies have mostly been overdrawn and misinformed, particularly on the differing natures of urban insurgents and rural guerrillas, but they remain the opiate of the chattering classes in Washington. And the Pentagon has again been in search of a tipping point in Iraq.

Yet if there’s unlikely to be a single point where the balance shifts in Iraq, it nevertheless appears that the war has entered a crucial phase, perhaps a “tipping period.” To be sure, Iraqi insurgents continue to demonstrate their ability to create terror. But Iraqis have just held their most important election to date, installing a fully sovereign and legitimate government. And the political will of the American people and their trust in the Bush administration face an election-year test — perhaps the most crucial milestone of all.

In the articles that follow, AFJ tries to assess where we are and where we might be headed. To begin with, Editor Tom Donnelly describes the state of the insurgency and the political climate in this country. Gordon Trowbridge looks inside the effort to remake the Iraqi Army while Frederick W. Kagan explains how to find true measures of success — or failure — in the Sunni Triangle. Joseph J. Collins offers his recommendations for getting back on the path to victory, and Lawrence Korb and Brian KatuliS make the case for a two-phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.