Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Surging Ahead: New Iraq Strategy Can Work!

Over at the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Max Boot had an insightful (and much needed) analysis on the political and military debate over the Bush administration's new strategy of troop reinforcements in Iraq. Boot notes that General David Petraeus has indicated recently that the upgraded deployment was not yet completed and that the strategy needs time before we can accurately assess its effectiveness. Yet, even some Republicans -- namely, House Minority Leader John Boehner -- are getting on the Democratic cut-and-run bandwagon, pushing for an early pullout unless arbitrary, short-term benchmarks are met.

Gen. Petraeus has promised to report back to Congress by September on what kind of progress he is making, but don't expect a definitive answer. He is unlikely to say "the surge has worked" or "the surge has failed." He will instead probably point to a variety of indicators, some of which will be positive, others negative. It will be left to the American people and their leaders to interpret these results as they see fit.
Boot says further that a recent Pentagon-sponsored study noted that most insurgencies are defeated, but it takes time, a decade on average. The implications: Patience all around for one thing (not least among those in the media). But we also need more signs of a sustained willingness on the part of the American public to have U.S. forces in-theater in Iraq over the longer-term. Boot notes that troops numbers could fall in years ahead, to the tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands -- but American service personnel must remain in the country for some duration:

If we're planning to start withdrawing in September 2007--or even September 2008--we might as well run up the white flag now and let the great Iraqi civil war unfold in all its horror....

If U.S. troops were to pull out anytime in the foreseeable future, the probable result would not be (as so many advocates of withdrawal claim) that Iraqis would "get their act together" and take care of their problems themselves. The far more likely consequence would be an all-out civil war. Not only would this be a humanitarian tragedy for which the U.S. would bear indirect responsibility, but it would also be a catastrophe for American interests in the region. If we are seen as the losers in Iraq, al Qaeda would be seen as the winner. The perception of American weakness fed by a pullout would lead to increased terrorism against the U.S. and our allies, just as occurred following our withdrawal from Somalia in 1993 and from Beirut in 1983.

In the ensuing chaos, it is quite possible that al Qaeda terrorists would succeed in turning western Iraq into a Taliban-style base for international terrorism. Although the momentum at the moment is running against al Qaeda in Anbar Province, the tribal forces who are now cooperating with the Iraqi government would be incapable of defeating al Qaeda on their own. If the U.S. were to pull out, the tribes would likely go back to cooperating with al Qaeda for the sake of self-preservation. And a handful of American Special Operations Forces operating from far-off bases would be helpless to stop the terrorists because they would lack the kind of human intelligence now generated by U.S. troops on the ground.
I've written on the dangers of a precipitous pullout before. See especially my post citing Reuel Marc Gerecht, "What Would Surrender in Iraq Look Like." Here's a key quote:

A forceful U.S. presence in Iraq was always the key to ensuring that Iraq's national identity had a chance to congeal peacefully [and]....

We are certainly not beyond the chance that the Iraqis can govern themselves more humanely than they were governed under Saddam Hussein. [Yet whoever] thinks Iraq is hell on earth now is suffering from a failure of imagination. If we leave, it will, in all probability, get vastly worse.
For Gerecht's full article, from the Weekly Standard, click here.

I agree with Boot's analysis for the most part, but he may be too optimistic on the duration of public backing for the mission.
I have long noted that American public opinion will not support a prolonged military deployment in the absence of the prospects of victory. Boot's article suggests that while the media broadcast (and broadcast, and...) the horrendous news on the steady stream of Sunni terrorist bombings, American ground forces have actually tamped-down sectarian violence perpetuated by the Shiite death squads. But more of this good news has to get through to the U.S. populace if a postive public opinion dynamic is to be sustained.

The new American anti-insurgency surge can work (
see another earlier Burkean post to that effect). But things will take time, with a good dose of patient resolve.

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