Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 15:23 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 15:23 | SYDNEY

Iraq and the conventional wisdom


Mark O'Neill

3 September 2008 14:38

Reading Patrick Walters’ piece from Baghdad in today’s Australian got me thinking n about how ‘conventional wisdom’ is often neither ‘conventional’ nor ‘wise’.  Walters reports, accurately, that the security situation in Baghdad has improved remarkably. This is not news to those who have been dealing with Iraq intimately. But for those whose information source has been the ‘conventional wisdom’ about the war in Iraq it may appear astounding. 

As I prepared for my deployment to Iraq last November, many of my friends, colleagues, acquaintances and the inevitable taxi driver expressed degrees of concern for my involvement in what they regarded as a hopeless situation. I encountered similar sentiments on my return home in June. The situation I encountered during my time in Iraq (which coincided with the second half of the ‘surge’) in no way resembled the hopelessness conventionally depicted back home.

While the situation was not ideal (clearly, 135,000 foreign troops assisting in a sovereign nation is indicative of problem), things were obviously better than had been depicted. I spoke with many Iraqis (troops and civilians) and Coalition members across the breadth of Iraq, and the message they had was consistent – things were improving. 

The scale of the improvement is evident in reports that Anbar province is now under sole Iraqi control. Anbar is the former Sunni insurgent-dominated province that contains the previously restive cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. While General Petraeus remains correctly cautious in asserting there is still a long way to go in Iraq, the evidence clearly demonstrates that the ‘conventional wisdom’ of failure in Iraq was, at best, premature.

The progress in Iraq relates to three factors. The first, and most significant, is the remarkable progress made by Iraqi people with respect to development of governance, appropriate security forces and reconciliation in their own society. Australia, along with the other Coalition partners, should be proud of the support they have offered the people of Iraq in this herculean task. The second factor was the development and implementation of sound strategy, initially started by General Casey and subsequently developed by General Petraeus, to deal with the situation. The third and final factor was undoubtedly the contribution of the ‘Surge’ in placing enough troops on the ground to provide the necessary physical security for other important developments to take occur. 

This third factor leads me to a closing observation about another piece of emerging ‘conventional wisdom’. It has become popular in parts to downplay the importance of land forces in addressing security problems. But the success of the Surge in bringing improvement to the situation in Iraq reaffirms the maxim that provision of security where people live is a necessary precursor to any other form of societal endeavour. Any number of submarines, fast jets, superior diplomacy or enhanced aid programs cannot provide such security in the face of an actual physical threat.

Photo by Flickr user ChuckHolton, used under a Creative Commons license.