Friday, February 22, 2008

Iraq: What has the surge accomplished?

While U.S. troops have a tenuous hold on the situation in Baghdad, Iraq is in trouble in the north and south. In the north, Turkey has invaded Kurdistan in pursuit of guerilla fighters with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) but may be on a collision course with Iraqi Kurdish troops. In the south, clashes in Basra have broken out between Iraqi soldiers and offshoots of the Mahdi Army while British troops have come under fire.

The center of the country around Baghdad has seen a decrease in violence in part due to the increase of American troops -- the "surge" -- on the ground in the area. However, while there has been a decrease in fighting in central Iraq progress on political goals and reconstruction has been stalled by weaknesses in U.S. strategy and the ineffectiveness of the government in Baghdad according to a report issued by the General Accounting Office (GAO) to congress. We were told the whole purpose of the “surge” was to buy time for the political work to get done to resolve Iraq’s multiple internal conflicts. While the soldiers have done their part the political leaders in Washington and Baghdad have not done their parts.

And of course, once the Iraq was stabilized American troops were to be brought home and the rebuilding of the armed forces to begin.

The problem is this doesn’t seem to be happening. The relative calm in central Iraq apparently is not sustainable on its own.

Here are Michael Kinsley’s thoughts on the rational of the surge to bring American troops:
…Bush laid down the standard of success when he announced the surge more than a year ago: "If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home." At the time, there were about 130,000 American soldiers in Iraq. Bush proposed to add up to 20,000 troops. Although Bush never made any official promises about a timetable, the surge was generally described as lasting six to eight months.

By last summer, the surge had actually added closer to 30,000 troops, making the total American troop count about 160,000. Today, there are still more than 150,000 American troops in Iraq. The official plan has been to get that number back down to 130,000 by July, and then to keep on going so that there would be about 100,000 American troops in Iraq by the time Bush leaves office. Just lately, though,
Petraeus has come up with another Zen-like idea: He calls it a "pause." And the administration has signed on, meaning that the total number of American troops in Iraq will remain at 130,000 for an undetermined period.

So the best we can hope for, in terms of American troops risking their lives in Iraq, is that there will be just as many in July -- and probably in January, when time runs out -- as there were a year ago. The surge will have surged in and surged out, leaving us back where we started. Maybe the situation in Baghdad, or the whole country, will have improved. But apparently it won't have improved enough to risk an actual reduction in the American troop commitment.

And consider how modest the administration's standard of success has become. Can there be any doubt that it would go for a reduction to 100,000 troops -- and claim victory -- if it had any confidence at all that the gains it brags about would hold at that level of support? The proper comparison isn't with the situation a year ago. It's with the situation before we got there.

Imagine that you had been told in 2003 that when George W. Bush finished his second term, dozens of American soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis would be dying violently every month; that a major American goal would be getting the Iraqi government to temper its "de-Baathification" campaign so that Saddam Hussein's former henchmen could start running things again (because they know how); and "only" 100,000 American troops would be needed to sustain this equilibrium.
Or as Colonel Douglas Macgregor has put it:
The trouble is that the war's rationale has become circular -- "success" means success at putting the military engagement on a sustainable basis. We're fighting for the ability to keep on fighting. But sustaining that posture keeps making the United States and our position in the world as a whole weaker and weaker.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading your blog, it always has great insight. But I am very frustrated with the media’s lack of questions to the presidential candidates about global warming. Now that it is down to just a few candidates I would think that this would be a bigger issue.

Live Earth just picked up this topic and put out an article ( ) asking why the presidential candidates are not being solicited for their stance on the issue of the climate change. I just saw an article describing each candidate’s stance on global warming and climate change on . So obviously they care about it. Is it the Medias fault for not asking the right questions or is it the candidates’ fault for not highlighting the right platforms? Does anyone know of other websites or articles that touch on this subject and candidates’ views? This is the biggest problem of the century and for generations to come…you would think the next president of the United States would be more vocal about it.

Comrade Kevin said...

And yet keeping Iraq in public discourse and continuing to reframe it in ways that keep it in the public mindframe will be the constant challenge.