Monday, January 29, 2007

Examining the Troop Surge in Iraq

Our recent - and perhaps last - major initiative in Iraq, has been characterized by the media, the Democrats, and now a few Republicans as a purely military tactic: more force to kill the bad guys and/or to police a civil war.

However, the President’s National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley, insists that the troop surge is in fact a component of a broader new strategy that includes accelerated training of Iraqi forces, relaxed rules of military engagement and economic development enabled by a persisting presence of American and Iraqi troops to maintain security in newly pacified regions.

This strategy appears sensible on the surface. It makes me wonder what our objectives have been in the last four years if not these….

I think the answer to that question is that these are not new objectives.

Training the Iraqi security forces is an essential prerequisite for all the other initiatives Hadley cites. Consequently, it has been a top priority of U.S. efforts for a long time. It was at least 18 months ago when President Bush first pushed this strategy: “As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down”.

Yet it has become increasingly clear that this is a much more complex task than it seems. It is one thing to give a young Iraqi a weapon, basic military training and the title of “soldier”. It is apparently another to get them to put the interests of Iraq above those of their tribe or religious sect. If you find this notion questionable, this article, from the Council on Foreign Relations, discusses it in greater detail.

The fact that this deeply rooted obstacle is not being mentioned by any member of the Administration, and there are no visible sources of additional pressure on the Iraqi government to solve these problems internally (which is probably the only way they can be), makes me question if this new strategy has any chance of success.

Assuming the obstacle is real, it is a problem that will impede (if not render impossible) the progress of every other objective that Hadley lists in the “new” strategy. It is also a challenge that additional American force will – in no way whatsoever – address. I believe that this is the case. It is the most plausible explanation why we have made no visible progress in the streets of Iraq in the last 4 years, despite the laudable accomplishments of legitimate national elections and a respectable Iraqi Constitution.

At this point, I am a member of the McCain and Lieberman camp that refuses to ignore the high probability that withdrawing from this war before the Iraqi government’s sustainability is achieved would have catastrophic consequences for both American strategic interests and the Iraqi people. I respect their willingness to force a discussion of this reality despite the severe political consequences of doing so (it has cost Lieberman his party membership and may very well cost McCain the presidency).

Nevertheless, there is no reason to believe this surge will do anything more than cost more American lives, money and prestige. It will also continue to divert resources (not the least of which is the American public’s attention) from important and still solvable challenges including al-Qaeda, Afghanistan and the Iranian nuclear challenge.

This makes me think that if we are not going to really do what it takes to win – something truly new and innovative – something more than a marginal troop surge – then perhaps our best move (out of a list of utterly terrible options) is to leave…

I still cannot bring myself to fully accept this, but the more time that passes, the closer I get.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This makes me think that if we are not going to really do what it takes to win – something truly new and innovative – something more than a marginal troop surge

But what? I confess that I have no ideas, but I'm not a military or policy expert, and it seems like the people who are have no ideas, either.

Picking up and leaving would cause disaster, but it may cause the least of all possible disasters.

God, the whole thing is a mess, isn't it? My only consolation is the I-told-you-so-a-bility that comes from having opposed the war since day zero. The other voices in my head are getting tired of my smugness, though...