Friday, March 09, 2007

It's not too soon to judge The Surge

Bear with me dear readers. This is going to be long because we have a dialogue going on here between supporters and critics of the surge strategy and I think it's important the discussion be fully explored.

First of all, my cherished friend Tobacco Joe, whose opinion I value highly, checks into comments on this post and unfortunately proffers a completely wrong view. He defends the Democrats' reluctance to take a firm stance on ending the occupation as proper and reflecting the view of moderate and independent voters. I'd agree that it wasn't solely the leftroots that put the Dems in office, but Joe I'm afraid ignores the polling that has consistently shown that 60% or better of the electorate favors an immediate or at least a set withdrawal date. Now I'm not a great believer in polls, but these numbers have been coming up often enough to give them considerable weight.

Joe goes on to say, "It's too early to say if the "surge" is working, but it's damned sure just as too early to call it a failure, right?" My answer to that question is, no -- it's not too early. We've been asked to sit through "just six more months" of a war that wasn't supposed to last more than a few weeks, one too many times in the last four years and all we've received in return is the same recycled strategies with new names. We have plenty of historical reference to judge the potential success of this "new surge" which frankly is indistinguishable from the old "stay the course" to me. This is already playing out in exactly the same way it has from the beginning.

We're having some success in securing a few neighborhoods in Baghdad. The most violent factions left town and are regrouping and plying their terroristic tactics in a new place. This happened in Fallujah and it has happened in so many other places that I can't even remember their names anymore. For that matter, we already declared Baghdad secure at least once in the last four years and yet here we are again, re-securing it. Which brings me to a related
point made by Charles Bird
who blogs at RedState and left comments on this post. Charles seems to think the new COIN manual will save the mission. He says:
The counterinsurgency strategy involves more troops on the ground, more direct involvement with the Iraqi people, more training. It's hard to boil it down to the essence because it is "graduate level warfare", but clear-hold-build is fairly close.

The strategy is comprehensive and covers issues such as security, military restraint (when necessary), direct intelligence, flexibility, diplomacy, humanitarian treatment, training, economic incentives, application of the rule of law, and good politicking, to name a few. It takes military and non-military personnel out of FOBs and puts them on the ground, which may put more Americans at risk in the short-term. But if it takes 30,000 more troops to do this kind of job successfully, then I'm for it because the result will be an Iraq that is turned around.
I'm going to leave aside that this manual could have been taken straight off the posts of the leftie blogs over the last four years. In fact, the RedStaters were reviling us when we were saying this was the sort of strategy they should have been pursuing from the beginning. But leaving that in the past and looking forward, if I thought 30,000 more troops could do the job, I'd be supporting the surge too. But it just won't work.

They can clear and they can secure, but how can they hold when the insurgency just moves to a new territory? I have to think that even if we threw all 160,000 troops into a city of 7 million we couldn't accomplish this mission without a permanent holding force and that still leaves the rest of Iraq as a terrorist staging ground. And if they can't hold, how can they build? Not to mention, name me one useful benchmark the Iraqi government has reached despite their assurances over two years ago that they would be ready to take over their own security within six months?

As my pal Nolocontendere points out, the surge supporters simply have to come to terms with this one simple unavoidable truth. "Our continued occupation is the CAUSE of the problems in Iraq, NOT their eventual solution."

I'll even cede the point that the real terrorists are in Iraq because we're occupying the country and leave aside they weren't there before we arrived. But the reason they're staying there is because we're not leaving and it's providing them a training ground for guerrilla warfare they wouldn't have without our continued presence. If we left tomorrow, the foreign terrorists wouldn't long enjoy what support they now have among a population that views us as part of the problem since they wouldn't have us to point to as the cause of any collateral damage they're inflicting on the Iraqi people. They would be exposed for the savages they are, who are merely slaughtering their fellow Muslims for their own ends.

I would love to believe that somehow we could salvage this occupation and bring peace and stability to both Iraq and the greater Middle East, but as it stands, we're merely perpetuating a classic Catch-22. The terrorists provide cover for our continued presence, as we provide cover for theirs and every day the region becomes more unstable - not less. There was a time a surge may have worked but that time is long past.

But the biggest flaw in the surge strategy is that its success, however you define it, hinges on the leadership of two wholly incompetent presidents - Bush and Maliki. Petraeus may be a good man and an intelligent officer, but even he admits the mission has only a 25% chance of success and given the circumstances, I don't see how he can overcome those odds. I'm simply not willing to gamble the lives of our soldiers for yet another six months, or twelve months, or longer, to find out I'm right again, about why this strategy is wrong.

I think at this point, finally, the majority of Americans and the rest of the world, agree with me and it's time for the surge supporters to accept that sometimes nobody wins and everybody loses as long as the fighting continues. We gave the Iraqis a democratically elected government and their sovereignty. The only real victory will come when we let them use it.

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Blogger Bird Dog said...

I don't know if the new strategy will ultimately prove successful, but I think Petraeus deserves an honest shot at it. The sad part is that it took a blown election for Bush to finally get off the schneid and make some changes and get some qualified in-country to do the job. I've been advocating a proper counterinsurgency strategy since April 2004, and only now they're beginning to implement it full scale. As I wrote here, if no discernible improvements happen by the end of this year, I will join the defeatists and support a phased withdrawal. But not yet, not when we're finally getting a plan that has a chance to work. The inital signs are favorable, but terrorist attacks will continue to happen.

I do have problems with several of your premises, libby. First, that this is just another version of "stay the course". It's not. Not even close. Second, that we are the cause of the problem. That is simply untrue. Read the latest NIE. Both Shiites and Sunnis want us there, and a too-sudden withdrawal would make the situation worse. Third, that this is irretrievably destined for failure. Situations change, just as polls do.

12:58:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Hey Charles, I'm glad you stuck around. I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this but I would like to respond nonetheless.

For one thing I wish you folks would stop calling people like me defeatists. I'm not a quitter. If you knew me, you would know just how stubbornly I fight for what I believe in. I don't give up until I've exhausted every possible avenue for success. But nobody wins every time and I see my view as realistic and I see this surge strategy as wishful thinking at this point. Again, this COIN thing looks great on paper but I think it's just more wishful thinking because it presumes the Iraqis are going to do their part and they either can't or won't as far as I can see. Granted I'm no military genius but I don't see that the outcome at the moment is any different from the previous surge they did in Baghdad last summer.

However as a practical matter, the surge is on and nothing I say is going to stop it so Petreaus will indeed get his chance to make it work. I hope to hell he proves me wrong.

As far as the US responsibility in this, all I can say is Iraq and the greater region are less stable then they were when we went in. They had a brutal dictator but everybody knew the rules and people weren't blowing up the cities and each other. People were safe to walk the streets. And Saddam worked as a check against Iran. Now we liberated them from Saddam and they democratically elected a pro-Iranian government. I don't see how that helped anybody.

And finally, I'm not advocating an immediate withdrawal. Obviously any redeployment needs to be done in a measured and orderly manner, but I think we need to stop babysitting the civil strife sooner than later. The Iraqis are never going to walk on their own until we stop holding their hand.

All I can say is there's this conventional wisdom on the right that the left wants this thing to fail but that's not true. I simply don't see how it can succeed so I can't support a strategy that encourages Iraq dependence on us instead independence from us. But believe or don't. I really do hope I'm wrong.

10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Bird Dog said...

For one thing I wish you folks would stop calling people like me defeatists.

I know folks don't like to hear it, but the term is definitionally accurate for those who've come to the conclusion that Iraq is irretrievably lost. I accept implicitly that you don't want failure to happen there, so don't count me as one of those who agree with that "CW". But there is a different mindset between those who believe failure is inevitable and those who believe there is a chance to turn things around. From each of these views, logical courses of action will flow in different directions. The defeatists will advocate for a measured withdrawal in order to minimize the loss of American lives and create the least worst impact on the people they leave behind. That is the Pelosi-Murtha plan (only the fruitcakes like Cindy Sheehan and Maxine Waters are calling for immediate withdrawal, and thankfully they're a thin minority). The other group will seek ways to turn this muddle into a more positive outcome. I confess that I'm in the latter group, but there is an expiration date and would have no problem calling myself a defeatist if that bridge is crossed.

Beyond that, I think you're right, that this is one of those agree-to-disagree situations.

Anyway, I might pop in from time to time, and you're welcome to mix it up at Redstate or ObsidianWings. Redstate you probably know. ObWi has a mix of front-pagers (including yours truly) and a 95% left-wing commentariat, so it will be a more friendly environment than RS.

6:29:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Oh you're that Charles Bird? RedState is not a place I go, for the same reason I don't read Kos. It's just too busy and I can't keep track of the players. But I love Obsidian Wings - although with trying to keep up four blogs and a full time job, I admit I don't get over there enough to have made the connection.

Anyway thanks for an interesting discussion.

10:18:00 AM  

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