The Surge – it worked!


Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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23 Responses

  1. Scott says:

    So when can we expect all of the defeatist Dems and liberals to acknowledge that they were wrong?Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    Can we declare victory and go home?Report

  3. greginak says:

    Hmmm there is quite a bit of straw here. At the least most L’s and D’s would suggest what Tom Ricks is quoted as saying “Ever since my friend and mentor Tom Ricks concluded at the end of his book The Gamble that the Surge succeeded tactically but failed strategically…”

    AM is suggesting that it may be working out strategically since there is a place for a peaceful political process. At best this is up in the air. As AM, who I think is a good analyst, notes there is still considerable violence in Iraq. This violence does not show any sign of lessening. This does not support his point. However there does appear to be some actual democracy budding which he points to as a proof of his belief. However it is also likely that future Iraqi governments will all be much closer aligned to Iran, which at this point is not a strategic victory at all. Of course it was always likely any Iraqi gov would be much closer to the Iranians, but a select group of neo-dim bulbs never could figure that out.

    I respect AM’s view that Iraq may be moving towards a strategic improvement for us but until we are completely out and their democracy continues without us, then we really don’t know what the final score is. It is still an unfortunate possibility that civil war will reignite once we are gone. This has always been a real possibility whether we got out in 07 or if we hang around to 17.Report

  4. And says:

    Political reconciliation isn’t one of the legs of the surge’s stool? Could still happen, but hasn’t yet. Until it has, you can’t say that the surge HASN’T failed.Report

  5. trizzlor says:

    The surge had very specific political and military components: the military components involved sending in more troops and getting them to follow the COIN mindset and the political component involved resolving major sectarian issues. Apparently as long as we can still get soldiers to march on and off a plane on schedule then all of our foreign operations are a success!Report

  6. Michael Drew says:

    The problem with AM’s point is that the question of whether the Surge worked is fantastically puny as compared to the question of whether invading was a good idea. He blows off the later in my opinion, but saying that invading was a bad idea is a really major statement, and shouldn’t be overshadowed by the contingent question of the Surge. There was just little likelihood the U.S. was going to accept defeat having invaded, so the Surge was rather a forced move — it shouldn’t garner its authors any strategic accolades, rather it should point out their strategic incompetence to that point, and their Grand Strategic incompetence in plunging the two countries into unnecessary war in the first place.Report

    • trizzlor in reply to Michael Drew says:

      @Michael Drew, I think this is a forced rhetorical strategy as well. Once it is not longer objectively possible to argue that the entire operation was a success, the advocates will move to arbitrarily defined slices of the pie and claim that they still taste delicious, dammit!

      Rhetorically, it’s quite effective: If you argue that the whole endeavor was a failure, they respond with Well, yeah! That’s obvious. And too complex to debate anyway; if you argue that this particular slice didn’t actually benefit the overall strategy in a measurable way, you’re either pushing the previous point (that, duh, we’ve all accepted already) or a defeatist.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to trizzlor says:

        They’ll move to do that, and did nearly immediately after the Surge — attempting to replace The War with The Surge in the public’s mind. In my view, trizzlor, the best way to counter such bullshit is with the truth, especially when the truth itself makes exactly the point you want to make. I view dwelling on the narrow question of the Surge to be both a losing battle, as everyone clearly remembers 2006 and it looks nothing like 2006 there now (insisting on the dual-track terms initially given for the Surge just seems to me an ineffective argument, not because it isn’t entirely legitimate analytically, but because Iraqi political reconciliation is an extremely difficult quantity for Americans to track as compared with political violence — a fact not alien to those who devised the public case for the Surge), but also buying into the whole Surge rhetorical framework from the beginning, allowing them a reset that denies history, when in fact the war was really one continuous clusterfuck that was brought extremely tardily into a state of violent irresolution somewhat below a patently unacceptable level after a sequence of events some related to the Surge but many not, indeed many predating it.) That view is best communicated by insisting on presenting the war as it is: one extended, dynamic chain of events, not a two-act play in which America heroically intervenes in the first act but then runs into difficulty, and then heroically reinforces its commitment at the point of maximum challenge rather than backing down. This latter view to some extent matches the media narrative experienced in real time by Americans, but it has very little relation to what actually took place in the country, which of course experiences a continuous day-to-day reality just as we here do. Allowing the question to become the efficacy of the Surge rather than the efficacy and course and direction of the war overall really just grants war defenders a pass on the central questions of the entire Iraq fiasco.

        To his credit, Exum acknowledges the reality of the larger question in his post; my point is that he grossly misrepresents the significance of the concession he makes on the overall war (not to mention the failure to secure a final victory from the initial military one, which went unaddressed for so long as to almost allow the entire enterprise to go down in outright military defeat in 2006). If he is wrong to emphasize the question of the “success” of the Surge, then so are war-opponents (and to be clear, I don’t argue that the Surge’s success needs to be conceded; only that the question itself is a rhetorical distraction, even a construction that serves the case of defenders of the war more than of opponents. Merely arguing the point concedes a bogus frame.)

        For a corrective, see this Michael Cohen response:

        • The last line from that piece: “As I have noted many, many times here and elsewhere drawing lessons from the surge is the wrong way to think about the war in Iraq; the right lesson is how did the US find itself in a place where it had to surge in Iraq and now Afghanistan” …is the one I would draw your attention to. Though I agree with his earlier points that the Surge question is important for current foreign policy debates, specifically A’stan (though I am actually somewhat less convinced than him that the Iraq example is not at all a positive indicator of prospects for COIN in Afghanistan, nevertheless I agree we should be wary of direct comparisons), the main point in my view is that in engaging a debate over Whether The Surge(s) Work(ed), we not lose sight of the fact that it is emphatically a much better policy for us as a country to avoid getting ourselves in positions where last-ditch military surges are necessary to avoid humiliating national disasters — that we not lose sight of just how precarious our situation was and how ill-led we were to have gotten ourselves into it, and that ways for our leaders to have avoided it abounded on the way into it, among others to include: not starting a voluntary, optional second war/front when a necessary (or at least near-consensus) one is being fought; if doing so, not fighting it incompetently in all but the first phase; if that is not possible, then at least not ignoring mounting signs that the incompetence is having the predictable effect and resisting adjustments to strategy through bureaucratic chicanery to the point of mission-threatening crisis before making adjustments.

          To focus then on The Surge (even if one can how that it is at best an incomplete success), is essentially to reward all the forgoing in favor of the last-ditch gambit all of it finally necessitated. That’s poor rhetorical tactics, and history and future generations demand that we set the focus where it belongs: the larger picture rather than a preferred subset of activities they would prefer us to focus on.Report

  7. Michael Drew says:

    The other thing to remember about the Surge is that if it worked, then this is a necessary part of how it did.Report

  8. krogerfoot says:

    Daniel Larison, true to form, takes apart the claim that “the surge worked” by showing that, by the standards of its own architects, a number of its key objectives were not met. Continuing to insist that the surge was a success requires a lot of stamping of feet, or a strange willingness to believe that the Bush Administration somehow didn’t really mean what it claimed were the goals of the surge.

    Of course for some, The Surge Worked is just a club to beat perfidious Democrats with, but people who seriously want to make this argument tend to end up taking the position that while the surge did not meet its own definitions of success, was not “worth” the horrific cost in blood and treasure from the U.S., its allies, or the people it was supposed to help, and has not yet made it possible to leave this disastrous war, it still somehow “worked.”Report

  9. Freddie says:

    Stability has come to Iraq because a)Baghdad has been effectively ethnically cleansed, b)we are paying militias hundreds of millions of dollars not to be insurgents, and c)there is a new authoritarian government to take over the strong-man job that Saddam used to occupy. So, yeah. Victory.Report