July 28, 2008

The Urge to Surge

For most Americans, reciting the ?surge is working? has been a helpful way of not thinking too long or hard on the Iraq war?roughly translated, the saying means, ?OK, at least things aren?t getting any worse over there?? The pro-war Right, on the other hand, has taken up the mantra as its sole foreign-policy winner against Obama, who according to them, is ?denying? the Surge?s success. 

Few have bothered to ask: Is the Surge really working? 

Ivan Eland points out that it’s working in pretty mysterious ways…

Using logic [never a good idea], if the U.S. troop surge had been the cause of the diminished violence, then why did the mayhem go up in 2005 when the United States undertook a troop surge of similar magnitude? Moreover, because little true political reconciliation has occurred in Iraq since the surge began, if the additional troops were the cause of the new tranquility, that calm should be evaporating now that U.S. forces are being reduced to pre-surge levels. Yet so far, no spike in violence is occurring. Thus, the logical conclusion is that other factors are likely to have been more important in improving conditions than the addition of more troops.

For example, many experts believe that the prior violent cleansing of ethno-sectarian populations has separated the battling Shi’ite and Sunni groups and thus reduced the internecine warfare. Also, the U.S. military finally implemented a true counterinsurgency strategy in which it eschewed killing lots of guerrillas (and civilians collaterally) with heavy firepower and moved toward holding ground and winning the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqi population. One would have thought it would not have taken the U.S. military so long to relearn this lesson after the searing experience of the Vietnam War.

An interesting point?the inter-sectarian violence, which spoiled all the good feeling after Saddam?s statue was torn down, might have pushed so many people into homogenous enclaves that they don?t feel the need to fight anymore.

One should remember that Eland has been an advocate of partition as ?way out of Iraq? (and as a solution to other problems as well.)  I must admit that I find this solution attractive, although we should remember that top-down ethnic cleansing?usually euphemized as ?partition? or ?national determination??has a very ugly history, and has almost always led to more and more ?purifying? of the ethnically defined region and then some squabbling for territory among the newly minted states. This being said, Eland?s undeceived understanding of what has really led to a drop in violence in Iraq is welcome. 

Also, ?Appeasement? of evildoers has been helpful:

Finally, and maybe most important, the U.S. decided to negotiate with (Muqtada al-Sadr and his Shi’ite militia) and pay off (the Sunni guerrillas) enemies to get their forces to quit attacking U.S. troops. U.S. politicians, thinking it is not macho to do either, have either downplayed these factors or preferred to refer to the latter by euphemism. The former is especially embarrassing to the politicians because the United States has criticized the new Pakistani government for negotiating with, instead of fighting, the Taliban and other Pakistani militants, while the U.S. government has pursued the same strategy in Iraq with the al-Sadr Shi’ite militia. The latter is embarrassing because it is considered wimpy to pay off, rather than do battle, with your enemies.
Make no mistake: paying off your enemies is always a better and cheaper strategy than expending the blood and treasure to fight them.

Finally there?s the problem that I?ve been blogging about recently: basically both candidates want to make a Surge in Afghanistan their exit strategy from Iraq. In Eland’s words, Obama and McCain have been in a ?bidding war to see how many U.S. troops they can add to another lost war in Afghanistan, which has even lower prospects for future stability than Iraq.? Once was enough. 

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