Iraq Surge’s Advocates Fear Gains Will Be Lost

Iraq Surge’s Advocates Fear Gains Will Be Lost by Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times.

The outside advisers who worked to persuade President Bush in 2006 to send a “surge” of reinforcement troops to Iraq now fear their efforts are on the verge of being erased.

Iraq has spiraled into a sectarian political crisis and suffered several deadly bombings since the last U.S. combat troops left on Dec. 18. Al Qaeda in Iraq, a terrorist group all but destroyed by the surge’s pinpoint raids and airstrikes, claimed it carried out the biggest blast on Monday.

The advisers comprise some of the best national security minds in Washington - strategists such as retired Army General John Keane, Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute…

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The real mark of success will be to see if a 1400 year old religious rift coupled with the suppression of a majority by the minority for a long period of time and the struggle over ownership claims of the old silk road--given a few years of relative quiet by armed force will evolve into a cooperative venture or devolve into violence with the survivor taking years to recover.

With Saudi looking over their shoulders-it will interesting to see where the Sunni minority goes especially since we the US were not deeply aware of the internal Wahabbi elements present in Iraq in the 90s.

That will be the legacy of the "surge".

There is much to be disappointed about, but the political spin that is attempting to blame the current administration on the previous administration's strategic failure sadly has resonance with select elements of our political culture. If the assumption is our troops have to stay there, then the correlating assumption must be that we didn't achieve a victory. Those who promote the terribly flawed COIN doctrine in FM 3-24, forcing cultural and political change in the name of liberty, etc. are going to die a long, slow death apparently.

We ousted Saddam, that was our military objective. The collective we (to include the Iraqis) suppressed the subsequent political and ethnic violence (only part of which could truly be considered an insurgency) enough to facilitate a political process, so the surge was a tactical, dare I say victory, to set conditions for more enduring actions. It now appears (and from my optic it has appeared that way since we first installed this government) that we (the collective we, but the U.S. pushed for this type of government) may have failed to install a functional government, but that is still to be determined.

The argument for our troops to stay has no merit unless it supports a strategy that actually facilitates real transition to something more enduring. If staying only props up the non-functional government we have now, what will it accomplish?

More one-dimensional thinking where military force is everything and the environment does not matter. In this telling, the surge of troops and money made the change, with no reference to the Iraqi conditions that underpinned it. The troops should stay there, with no reference to the fact that the place is a sovereign entity (which we were quick to create so we could walk away in the first place), and they do not want us there.

The same types of people who shaped the conditions and ideas to enable us to leave triumphantly after 3-6 months are the ones who now want us to stay in perpetuity. The Iraqis are either going to have to work together or kill each other some more until they come to stasis. All that our presence has done has created the artificial suppression of volatility. We knew what had to happen in order to create a more lasting agreement between the Sunni, Shi'i, and Kurds, but the Shi'i leadership had no impetus to make concessions once they were entrenched in government by the conditions we set. That did not change from 2005 to 2011. Now they are on the brink again. It will either produce catastrophe or a breakthrough. Us being there would only delay the resolution. It isn't a matter of people "getting used" to living together. They were used to that in 2003. It is a matter of the elites coming to a resolution on political and economic structures, which is a matter that wasn't moving with us in the middle.

Robert C Jones "But for my money, the greatest metric for the effectiveness of the surge will be how long it endures once we stop propping it up"

Agree totally. This is surely one of the main benchmarks of success for Iraq and Afghanistan. The challenge will be to resist the temptation to pick what success should look like other than the capacity for the national governments to maintain a level of security that is deemed acceptable in their view and not ours. There are plenty of places in the world where security and socio-economic measures are equally precarious.

Jason

Bob's comments are spot-on correct.

For many of us the touted so called "gains" by the Surge were always much more fleeting and ephemeral than real and "durable" to use Bob's words.

As Carl Prine has argued, the Surge merely "codified" other more important conditions and changes that had occurred at the time. It was not in any way a strategic, game changing event. Yet its architects have tried to turn it into such a thing, and as a result these same individuals have also ascribed way to much influence and "leverage" to what little American troops remained until the pull out. It is still unclear to me how a mere 10,000 troops qualify as a buffer. I can imagine if we had kept this small number of troops there, there would have been a strong reaction (fighting reaction that is) by the different shia militia groups. To compare Iraq to the Balkans and Americans presence there as Biddle does not make much sense to me.

In the end I suspect this "Obama lost Iraq" label will end up deflecting criticism from these very same people who advocated another Surge in Afghanistan, but with the same costly and dubious results.

If the gains were durable in nature, they will evolve and grow in strength. If they were artificial in nature they will devolve and fade away.

General Keane is probably not the best voice to listen to on this topic, IMO. I had the opportunity to listen to him speak at length about Afghanistan recently, during which he shared his perspectives on Vietnam and Iraq. My assessment is that this is very much the conventional warrior, who sees all conflicts through a fairly black and white lens of "if one defeats the enemey and preserves the current state, one wins." (my summary, not his words). This reflects a serious lack of understanding of the nature of insurgency and how conflicts rooted in insurgency differ from wars between states.

But for my money, the greatest metric for the effectiveness of the surge will be how long it endures once we stop propping it up.

If the argument is that we should dedicate ourselves to propping it up indefinitely, that is insane. If the argument is that we should re-look what we did, how we did it and what we helped create so that we might be more effective in the future and also better assist the Iraqi people in getting to a more durable solution of their own design, fine.