Erik Swabb, a former Marine officer in Iraq, writes:
After a costly learning process, the military increasingly "gets it" when it comes to irregular warfare …
Commanders, from the small-unit level to the general ranks, increasingly understand that population security, political reconciliation and economic development create legitimate government, which saps insurgents' strength. As a result, conventional forces are now performing counterinsurgency missions at a level that many experts thought impossible. …
The Sunni tribal uprising that's driven al Qaeda from Anbar Province and Baghdad wouldn't have occurred without U.S. forces grasping the complexities of irregular warfare. Iraqi Sunnis rejected the oppressive version of Islam that al Qaeda imposed -- but feared the consequences of resisting. By showing a willingness to help, U.S. troops presented a more trustworthy and less-threatening partner than al Qaeda, a remarkable achievement considering the vast religious and cultural differences between Americans and Iraqis.
U.S. commanders reached agreements with tribal leaders to accept their members into local security forces and establish combat outposts among the populace. Knowing that their families were safe from reprisals, the tribes gained the confidence to go after al Qaeda. Now U.S. officials are considering whether to adopt a similar model for Pakistan's Northwest Frontier.
It remains to be seen whether the new counterinsurgency strategy will lead to a peaceful, democratic Iraq. Success ultimately depends on the ability of Sunnis and Shiites to overcome decades of mistrust and antagonism. But the current approach has created an opportunity for political reconciliation, as Sunnis have demonstrated that they reject al Qaeda's campaign of terror against Shiites. The new strategy is also helping to prevent the establishment of an al-Qaeda safe haven in Iraq -- and in this sense, it has already proven its worth.
The strains on the military are real. However, overemphasis on the "eroding" capabilities of the armed forces belies the incredible emergence of an irregular warfare capacity in the world's greatest conventional military.
This hard-fought transformation faces resistance from advocates of the status quo in the military, and thus is easily reversible without political support. Such support is something Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree on.