Representative Ellison travelled to Iraq recently and met with Tribal leaders in Ramadi. He returned with an optimistic assessment of the cointerinsurgency strategy and the need to discredit al-Qaeda as representative of the Muslim community.

There are a number of positive points here, but one thing that struck me was that Ellison finally understood what the military is actually doing in Iraq. Unfortunately, many Democrats lack military experience and do not understand what militaries do. They seem to think that the army just shoots people. There’s no “military” solution obviously, so they call for more diplomacy with the locals.

I wonder how many Democrats would be shocked to learn that the military does all the tribal-level diplomacy for the US? Or even heard of a PRT? I hope seeing is believing.

About al-Qaeda:

Ellison, D-Minn., said he met in Ramadi in Anbar province with the two sheiks, who oversee several hundred thousand congregants.

“They were very upset and concerned that al-Qaeda is misrepresenting Islam,” Ellison told reporters on a conference call Monday from Germany, on his way back to the U.S. “And they were talking to me about what I can possibly do to work with them to give a clearer, more accurate picture of what Islam is all about.”

Ellison is promoting a greater State Department role in the war of ideas. After the Cold War, the US dismantled nearly all of its public diplomacy tools. We have to rebuild them from scratch.

There is a sea change in public opinion in the Middle East. Al-Qaeda has been attacking other Muslims for the past few years. This reduced the popular appeal of radicalism and suicide bombings. Hopefully we can capitalize on this opportunity.

He commented on why the US strategy is working:

Ellison said that local leaders in Ramadi told him of how they partnered with U.S. and Iraqi military officials to virtually rid al-Qaeda from the city. Although the lawmakers had to travel in flak vests and helmets, “we did see people walking around the streets of Ramadi, going back and forth to the market.”

There have been fewer anti-U.S. sermons as the violence has been reduced, Ellison said, and religious leaders meet regularly with U.S. military officials.

“The success in Ramadi is not just because of bombs and bullets, but because the U.S. and Iraqi military and the Iraqi police are partnering with the tribal leadership and the religious leadership,” he said. “So they’re not trying to just bomb people into submission. What they’re doing is respecting the people, giving the people some control over their own lives.”

Ellison said he was particularly impressed watching Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin, U.S. commander in the Anbar province, greeting people with “as-salama aleikum,” meaning peace be upon you.

This is basic stuff of course.

Yes, the military is diplomatically cooperating with the local leaders and not bombing them into submission. I thought this would have been obvious without a trip to Iraq, but perhaps not. At any rate, I hope more Democrats witness the soft-power potential of the military.

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