In 2007, President Bush sought to quell the chaos enveloping Iraq
by dramatically reshaping American strategy. The "surge," as he
called it, was actually about much more than just increasing the number
of troops on the ground. Bush, along with new Defense Secretary Robert
Gates and General David Petraeus, fundamentally altered the nature of
the American mission from a conventional war to a counterinsurgency.
While it's true that Iraq's violence has been dramatically reduced, and
that the recent March electionswent much better than the fraught 2005
elections, has the surge really worked? Did it really turn the Iraq war
for the better?
The Surge Worked Iraq vet-turned-think tanker Andrew Exum argues it worked.
"There can be no denying that a space has indeed been created for a more
or less peaceful political process to take place. Acts of heinous
violence still take place in Baghdad, but so too does a relatively
peaceful political process. If you want to argue that getting involved
in Iraq in the first place was a stupid decision, fine. I agree with
you. But trying to argue that the Surge 'failed' at this point -- even
if Iraq someday descends anew into civil war -- simply isn't a credible
option anymore." He cites this graph:
Achieve Political Reconciliation The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan counters,
"No one denies the decline in violence, and the luck and military skill
that it took. But the entire point of reducing the violence was to
create a space for political reconciliation, which would be the proof of
the surge's success, and which would allow the US to leave without a
regional and sectarian bloodbath. Such proof does not exist." He adds,
"the [political] paralysis since suggests that the sectarian divides and
distrust remain as deep as ever."
Doesn't Even Meet Bush's
Standards Conservative blogger Daniel Larison digs up
Bush's original goals for the surge, concluding they have not been met:
"Strengthen the rule of law and combat corruption. Build on security
gains to foster local and national political accommodations. Make Iraqi
institutions even-handed, serving all of Iraq’s communities on an
impartial basis." He fumes, "it is absurd to say that it is not credible
to judge the success of the plan according to the standards set up by
the administration that proposed it."
Better Question: Does it
Apply to Afghanistan? Defense blogger Michael Cohen says a more
pressing question is "whether the surge and counter-insurgency tactics
adopted by the United States in 2007 and 2008 decreased violence in Iraq
- and here's the rub - can be replicated elsewhere?" He says people are
wrongly jumping to the assumption that it can. "So while I think it's
fair to argue that the surge in US troops in Iraq contributed to the
decline of sectarian violence in Iraq (which it almost certainly did)
it's exceedingly dubious and dangerous to argue that thus COIN will work
in Afghanistan or anywhere else for that matter."
Kind of a Silly Debate Middle East blogger Greg Carlstrom scoffs, "It's an almost-impossible
question to answer, because it requires
disentangling the surge itself -- the infusion of troops -- from the
Sunni Awakening and the ethnic cleansing in Iraq. Suffice it to say I
disagree with Exum." He adds, "The reality is that the Iraqi Security
Forces are improving, as Michael
Hanna makes clear in a smart new Foreign Affairs piece.
They still have a long way to go, of course, and Iraq will remain
plagued by horrific violence for years."
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