It is now beyond question that the Bush Administration pursued a flawed approach to the war in Iraq from 2003 to 2007. That approach relied on keeping the American troop presence in Iraq as small as possible, pushing unprepared Iraqi Security Forces into the lead too rapidly, and using political progress as the principal means of bringing the violence under control. In other words, it is an approach similar to the one proposed by the ISG and by some who are now pushing for political benchmarks and the rapid drawdown of American forces as the keys to success in the war. It is no more likely to work now than it was then. Political progress is something that follows the establishment of security, not something that causes it. The sorts of political compromises that Iraq's parties must make are extraordinarily difficult--one might even say impossible--in the context of uncontrolled terrorism and sectarian violence. And the Iraqi Security Forces, although significantly better than they were this time last year, are still too small and insufficiently capable to establish security on their own or even to maintain it in difficult and contested areas without significant continuing coalition supportFor contrast, see GOP Senator Richard Lugar's call for abandoning Iraq, which he announced in a speech on the Senate floor Monday night.
For all of these reasons, the president changed his strategy profoundly in January 2007, and appointed a new commander in General Petraeus and a new Ambassador in Ryan Crocker to oversee the new approach. This new approach focuses on establishing security in Baghdad and its immediate environs as the prerequisite for political progress. It recognizes that American forces must be in the lead in many (but not all) areas, and that they will have to remain in areas that have been cleared for some time in order to ensure that security becomes permanent. The aim of the security strategy is to buy space and time for the political process in Iraq to work, and for the Iraqi Security Forces to mature and grow to the point where they can maintain the dramatically improved security situation our forces will have helped them to establish....
The U.S. has not undertaken a multi-phased operation on such a large scale since 2003, and it is not surprising therefore that many commentators have become confused about how to evaluate what is going on and how to report it. Sectarian deaths in Baghdad dropped significantly as soon as the new strategy was announced in January, and remain at less than half their former levels. Spectacular attacks rose as al Qaeda conducted a counter-surge of its own, but have recently begun falling again. Violence is down tremendously in Anbar province, where the Sunni tribes have turned against al Qaeda and are actively cooperating with U.S. forces for the first time. This process has spread from Anbar into Babil, Salah-ad-Din, and even Diyala provinces, and echoes of it have even spread into one of the worst neighborhoods in Baghdad--Ameriyah, formerly an al Qaeda stronghold. Violence has risen naturally in areas that the enemy had long controlled but in which U.S. forces are now actively fighting for the first time in many years, and the downward spiral in Diyala that began in mid-2006 continued (which is not surprising, since the Baghdad Security Plan does not aim to establish security in Diyala).
All of these trends are positive. The growing skill and determination of the Iraqi Army units fighting alongside Americans is also positive. Some Iraqi Police units have also fought well. Others have displayed sectarian tendencies and participated in sectarian actions. Political progress has been very slow--something that has clearly disappointed many who hoped for an immediate turnaround, but that is not surprising for those who always believed that it would follow, not precede or accompany, the establishment of security at least in Baghdad. And negative sectarian actors within the Iraqi Government continue to resist making necessary compromises with former foes. Overall, the basic trends are rather better than could have been expected of the operation so far, primarily because of the unanticipated stunning success in Anbar and its spread. But it remains far too early to offer any meaningful evaluation of the progress of an operation whose decisive phases are only just beginning.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
The Military Strategy of the Surge
Donald Kagan, a military expert at the American Enterpise Institute, testified before Congress on Wednesday, June 27. Speaking to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, he explained how the Bush administration's surge strategy works. Here's an excerpt, from the Weekly Standard:
Posted by Donald Douglas at 4:08 AM