Archive for the ‘surge’ Category

Andrew Bacevich–West Pointer,  conservative, father of KIA 1st Lt. Bacevich–criticizes the war in a way that should be persuasive to conservatives, including conservatives like me who initially supported the war for punitive reasons. Namely, it’s now clearly a waste of resources and a strategic error to continue on this course. It’s important not to continue this path, even though leaving Iraq would violate a normally good means to discover good policy: staying would enrage liberals.

Just because many anti-American liberals oppose something, doesn’t make it right. This war, like others, might be wrong for reasons pacifists and unpatriotic globalists don’t appreciate. As Bacevich observes, the war is a strategic failure and will continue to murmur along without any real progress indefinitely:

The costs to the United States of sustaining this dependency are difficult to calculate with precision, but figures such as $3 billion per week and 30 to 40 American lives per month provide a good approximation.

What can we expect to gain in return for this investment? The Bush administration was counting on the Iraq War to demonstrate the viability of its Freedom Agenda and to affirm the efficacy of the Bush Doctrine of preventive war.

Measured in those terms, the war has long since failed. Rather than showcasing our ability to transform the Greater Middle East, Operation Iraqi Freedom has demonstrated just the opposite. Using military power as an instrument for imprinting liberal values in this part of the world has produced a failed state while fostering widespread antipathy toward the United States.

Rather than demonstrating our ability to eliminate emerging threats swiftly, decisively, and economically—Saddam Hussein’s removal providing an object lesson to other tyrants tempted to contest our presence in the Middle East—the Iraq War has revealed the limits of U.S. power and called into question American competence. The Bush Doctrine hasn’t worked. Saddam is long gone, but we’re stuck. Rather than delivering decisive victory, preventive war has landed us in a quagmire.

I would add that the absolute worst reason to stay in this war is for some emotional notion of national honor and commitment to the troops, impulses that undergird the very unstrategic thinking John McCain and numerous buck sergeants. We don’t go to war to do the conquered a favor. We don’t stay to avenge deaths like some armed camp of Zulus. A nation goes sends its army to war to accomplish foreign policy goals. This same nation can and should withdraw these troops when it’s in our interests to do so, when those goals are out of reach, no longer important, or too costly. It’s not like Iraq is sacred American soil; this is a foreign land, half way around the world, in a very bad neighborhood, populated mostly by uncivilized people whom we do not understand and who do not understand or appreciate our soldiers’ sacrifices.

Sure, we can pig-headedly spend $20 or $30 trillion over another decade, but even if everything turns out for the best, it will be a strategic benefit worth some fraction of that. And then what? We’ll still have al Qaeda to worry about. We’ll still have North Korea. Our borders will be too porous. Our ranks of third world immigrants will remain too numerous. The Middle East will still have large numbers of pissed off young men who are given sanction to vent their anger by their religion.  The deterrent value of staying or leaving is a wash. Iran knows we won’t easily commit to a similar adventure on its territory. Russia and China will still be ascendant in their spheres of influence. Oil will still be scarce and in the hands of unstable autocrats and their resentful subjects.

Vast swaths of people all around the world will not appreciate Iraq as a model, it ends up as stable as Pakistan or Indonesia when all is said and done. Instead of seeing idealistic U.S. sacrifices for democracy, most Arabs and Muslims will perceive a marginally successful bid for power and domination of Iraq’s oil wealth. Most of the worlds peoples will continue to be more passionate about religion, nationalism, ideology, wealth, prosperity, and tribalism than democracy and the rule of law. Not only that, they’ll treat these tangible goods as more desirable than democracy–whether originating from bloody revolutions at home, or imposed from without by an idealistic and ideological United States.

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I’m sure glad that I didn’t recently write anything in praise of the surge, or the calm in Iraq, or the great progress we’ve made. I was even tempted at times to temper my earlier, very negative opinions of a year ago. My original suspicions are confirmed: violence is always just around the corner.  Iraq is still an unstable country of selfish tribes. There is no unifying principle, leader, or interest among its many peoples.

It’s not surprising that as soon as the Sunnis and Shias stop killing one another–in part because they’ve ethnically cleansed one another from mixed areas–that the various Shia factions start fighting over power and oil revenues. There is no hope for a stable Iraq without a strong leader or a winning tribe in charge of the others. There seems little prospect of either. If Basra’s Shias under Sadr come under control, some other faction will pop up. It’s a hopeless mess, and the patina of democracy and legality masks the enduring reality: the “insurgents” are Iraqi cops, Iraqi soldiers, Iraqi government officials, and others with ties to the pro forma institutions of government. There is no Iraq. Only tribes that ignore, employ, or attack Americans as it is to their perceived advantage. This goes for the Sunni Awakening folks, the Shias in the government, and the Kurds in the North.

McCain suggests national honor is at stake in whether America leaves Iraq. This charge is a reason for pause. But it’s not persuasive. It’s just a habitual response. I imagine that someone like McCain could never tell us when a war is worth quitting:  his soft-hearted and romantic notions of “doing right by the fallen” will be a disaster in a civilian commander in chief. Our honor is intact. It was there the day we handed over sovereignty, toppled the Saddam statue, captured Saddam, graduated the first class of Iraqi soldiers, painted the first school, etc. We tried. The folks who have worked with us have been paid handsomely. We tried too much, in fact, and gave the Iraqis too much credit. These people do not deserve American efforts, American lives, American blood, or American prestige, truly valuable and irreplaceable resources wasted every day in Iraq on some of the worst savages on Earth.

The war is a waste of time and resources. Now we know–as we should have known five years ago–Iraq has no nuclear weapons or nuclear prospects. Now we know–as we should have known three years ago–that no Iraqi democratic model is emerging to inspire its neighbors. Now we know–as we could easily see only one year ago–that the Surge has done very little to alter the permanent, political realities of Iraq; the country is still a chaotic, tribal dump, little better than Somalia. Now we know–as we could see in the 2004 Fallujah battle–that our very presence there increases the appeal and reach and recruiting efforts of al Qaeda, equally as much or more than it does anything to fight them on a strategic level.

The only reason the US should have gone to Iraq was to stop Saddam from getting nuclear weapons, scare would-be threats to the United States, and keep Iran and Iraq’s other neighbors from seeking the power that comes with Iraqi oil. We can do this more effectively today from aircraft carriers and troop ships in the Persian Gulf. It’s time to go, and this silly flare up of intra-Shia tensions is as good of a reason as any to tell the Iraqis that we’ve had enough of their moronic squabbling.

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General Petraeus advocated a surge. Then he, inexplicably, said it was working so well that it was time to change course again and reduce the surge. I discussed this illogic here. Andrew Bacevich–Army veteran , BU Professor, and father of deceased Army Lieutenant KIA in Iraq–explains the political roots of Petraeus’ backing down from his earlier enthusiasm for the surge in this article in the American Conservative:

If Petraeus actually believes that he can salvage something akin to success in Iraq and if he agrees with President Bush about the consequences of failure —genocidal violence, Iraq becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks directed against the United States, the Middle East descending into chaos that consumes Israel, the oil-dependent global economy shattered beyond repair, all of this culminating in the emergence of a new Caliphate bent on destroying the West—then surely this moment of (supposed) promise is not a time for scrimping. Rather, now is the time to go all out—to insist upon a maximum effort.

There is only one plausible explanation for Petraeus’s terminating a surge that has (he says) enabled coalition forces, however tentatively, to gain the upper hand. That explanation is politics—of the wrong kind.

Given the current situation as Petraeus describes it, an incremental reduction in U.S. troop strength makes sense only in one regard: it serves to placate each of the various Washington constituencies that Petraeus has a political interest in pleasing.

A modest drawdown responds to the concerns of Petraeus’s fellow four stars, especially the Joint Chiefs, who view the stress being imposed on U.S. forces as intolerable. Ending the surge provides the Army and the Marine Corps with a modicum of relief.

A modest drawdown also comes as welcome news for moderate Republicans in Congress. Nervously eyeing the forthcoming elections, they have wanted to go before the electorate with something to offer other than being identified with Bush’s disastrous war. Now they can point to signs of change—indeed, Petraeus’s proposed withdrawal of one brigade before Christmas coincides precisely with a suggestion made just weeks ago by Sen. John Warner, the influential Republican from Virginia.

The article is worth reading in full. The idea that the Bush administration can dress up its helter skelter lack of strategy in Iraq is much more insulting to the uniform than any propaganda peddled by moveon.org and company.

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The Surge and the Numbers

Two good pieces from DNI:  one talks about how the military’s conventional war culture is contributing to our failures in Iraq, and the other article analyzes why the Surge is nothing special and barely increases our troop levels from what has prevailed over the last three years.  There’s no reason to think it will accomplish anything useful, other than move around violence, and the same problems will persist in the form of asymmetric threats, revanchist Ba’athists, and a corrupt Iraqi regime.

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