In October 2013, David Patraeus came out with an amazingly imaginative work called “How We Won in Iraq.” Detailing the ways that US counterinsurgency rebuilt Iraq out of the rubble of a failed State, in pursuit of truth, unity, and the democratic way. Somewhat prophetically, Patraeus looks to the transfer of power with an ominous analysis of long-term strategy in Iraq.
With the rise of ISIS, one thing is for certain; the US absolutely did not win in Iraq–at least not in the manner that Patraeus claims to have won. Otherwise, a group that formed out of Al Qaeda in Iraq, funded and armed by the US, would not have seized such a large portion of Iraq and Syria virtually overnight–unless the rapidly-growing hegemony of a US-funded terrorist group like ISIS manifests some sort of US victory. Likely not.
But to find the root of the failure in Iraq, where Al Qaeda is now apparently battling ISIS for primacy in the global jihadist showdown, we don’t have to look to Patraeus. He is not entirely to blame; he was just following orders. A wider-angle view will put in range the doctrine of “discriminate deterrence,” a funky Cold War-era doctrine produced by Henry Kissinger, Samuel Huntington, and Albert Wolhstetter.
It was the end of the Cold War, and a pivot in nuclear arms strategy seemed necessary. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty had just been signed, and a combination of clear signs from the Soviet Union of a coming apocalypse, along with a general populist feeling that mutually assured destruction wasn’t a viable election platform, led to the understanding that the US-Soviet conflict should be played down. Focus should be brought, instead, to conflict in the Third World, where a broader consensus on “ends and means” seemed necessary.