Winning the War in Iraq
An Address by Senator John McCain
About This Event

Registration for this event is now closed due to an overwhleming response. Members of the media may contact Andrew Pappas at 202.862.4870 or Walk-in registrations may not be accepted.

Despite the approval of Iraq's new constitution and progress in developing Iraq’s security forces, ongoing violence and political instability have raised questions about the current strategy for fighting, and winning, the war.

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) will deliver a major policy address at the American Enterprise Institute on Operation Iraqi Freedom and the path to victory.

Following his speech, AEI scholars Danielle Pletka, Thomas Donnelly, Frederick W. Kagan, Michael Rubin and Reuel Marc Gerecht will give an update on Iraq and predictions for the future.


12:00 p.m.
Danielle Pletka, AEI
Keynote Address:
Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.)
Panel: The Future of Iraq
Danielle Pletka, AEI
Reuel Marc Gerecht, AEI
Frederick W. Kagan, AEI
Thomas Donnelly, AEI
Michael Rubin, AEI

Event Summary

November 2005

Winning the War in Iraq

Despite the approval of Iraq’s new constitution and progress in developing Iraq’s security forces, ongoing violence and political instability have raised questions about the current strategy for fighting, and winning, the war. On November 10, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) delivered a major policy address at AEI on Operation Iraqi Freedom and the path to victory. Following his speech, AEI scholars Danielle Pletka, Thomas Donnelly, Frederick W. Kagan, Michael Rubin, and Reuel Marc Gerecht gave an update on Iraq and predictions for the future.

The Honorable John McCain
United States Senate

Despite frequent bombings, attacks, and the commonly held view that it was unsuited for freedom, Iraq is moving towards democracy. The Iraqi people voted for an interim government in January, they put Saddam on trial, and they wrote and approved one of the most progressive constitutions in the region.

The choices made in Iraq will not only forever change the Middle East, they will also impact U.S. foreign policy and national security. There is an understandable desire for an immediate end of the war in Iraq; however, the implementation of such a policy would entail consequences of the most serious nature. A premature retreat would most likely result in full-scale civil war, as Iraqi forces are not yet able to enforce and maintain security without coalition support. Furthermore, immediate withdrawal would invite further interference from states such as Syria and Iran, empower the insurgency, and render neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey more insecure. In short, leaving Iraq without an established and legitimate Iraqi authority would mean repeating the fatal mistake of pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

Several significant policy changes are needed in order to win the war in Iraq. First, the military counterinsurgency strategy must be revised. The focus needs to shift from killing and capturing insurgents to protecting the local population and creating secure areas where insurgents find it difficult to operate. Second, the military should end the rotation of senior officers. Generals and other senior officers, who have on-the-ground experience, are needed in Iraq. Third, though military efforts are certainly significant, non-military components need to be emphasized as well. Unless the people of Iraq see a tangible improvement in their daily lives, support for the new government will wane. Fourth, loyalty must be built through diversification of the Iraqi armed forces. Fifth, pressure needs to be put on Syria, which still allows Iraqi insurgents and foreign terrorists to operate within its borders. Finally, the homefront must be won. If we do not have the support of the American people, we will have lost this war as soundly as if our forces were defeated on the battlefield.

The Iraqi people have shown their desire for democracy; they need security in order to surmount the remaining obstacles. They can do that, but they need our help.

Frederick W. Kagan

Expanding the size of the U.S. Army is crucial in winning the war in Iraq as well as for future engagements. As advocated by many, this is a step that should have been taken as early as in the 1990s. With the prolonged conflict in Iraq, now is the time to expand the U.S. armed forces.
Michael Rubin

Experience has shown that insurgencies cannot be defeated by trying to solve their grievances. As in the case of the PKK in Turkey, it is the pursuit and capture of the leadership that will lead to the demise of the insurgency. This strategy should be pursued in Iraq as well.

Thomas Donnelly

Many of John McCain’s remarks in his speech are applicable not only to Iraq, but also to other conflicts in the region. His recommendations pertaining to intelligence-sharing, counterinsurgency tactics, and the expansion of the U.S. armed forces are beneficial for America’s future involvement in the region.

Reuel Marc Gerecht

The incorporation of militias into Iraqi armed forces is not a problem so long as they do not fill officer ranks. An Iraqi force whose officer corps is composed of militias can prove disastrous not only to process of peace building in Iraq, but also directly to the United States.        

AEI interns Frough Panjshiri and Shawn Mayo-Pike prepared this summary.

View complete summary.
Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine

What's new on AEI

image The money in banking: Comparing salaries of bank and bank regulatory employees
image What Obama should say about China in Japan
image A key to college success: Involved dads
image China takes the fight to space
AEI Participants




Frederick W.



  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


    Follow Danielle Pletka on Twitter.

  • Phone: 202-862-5943
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Alexandra Della Rocchetta
    Phone: 202-862-7152



  • Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. Rubin instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism, and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, both pre- and post-war Iraq, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His newest book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engagement examines a half century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups.

    Follow Michael Rubin on Twitter.

  • Phone: 202-862-5851
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Ahmad Majidyar
    Phone: 202-862-5845
AEI on Facebook