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December 21, 2006

Pro And Cons Of A Surge

Sorry to keep linking HotAir, but I'm behind today, and Allah Pundit is good. This post links five takes on the likely coming surge, some for, others against.

Jeb Babbin is against it, at least until his questions can be answered, and he seems to have already answered them.

First is what will they do when they get there? Some pundits think we're going to "take the gloves off", destroy the militias and somehow - by house to house fighting if no other way - rout the insurgents of all stripes to give the Iraqi government breathing room in which to accomplish their political compromises and sing a chorus or two of "Kumbaya." None of this is remotely possible.

First, if we are temporarily deploying more forces we are necessarily telling the insurgents to fade away, take their money, weapons and key people underground, and wait us out. They can evade us and wait us out. It's almost as bad as announcing a firm date for withdrawal of all Americans. We are in a very tough spot because some military leaders have said publicly - in Congressional hearings and elsewhere - that we lack the forces to support a sustained effort in Iraq much longer. The enemies watch those hearings more closely than Americans do.

I don't buy that. Six months of terrorists "waiting us out" is also six months of relative peace, and a chance at a return to normalcy durihg the "waiting period" -- a state that most Iraqis may not wish to depart from once they've had a taste of democratic, stable, peaceful life. If the terrorists "wait us out" they may find they have fewer allies and harborers after the wait.

Furthermore, such a decrease in violence -- due to "waiting us out" -- would be a political blessing for the Iraqi government, and Bush. The public -- both the Iraqi public and the American public -- has lost faith in the war because of the "ever-escalating" violence in Baghdad and other places. Six months of relative peace would restore a lot of that faith.

And, again, it wouldn't necessarily be illusory -- a lot of good can happen during six months of peace and prosperity. Iraqis, for example, could afford to send more troops to close off the borders and keep fresh jihadis and IEDs from pouring in. The economy would of course greatly improve, giving most Iraqis -- even those aligned with the insurgents -- a greater stake in preserving the peace than they currently have. And six months of the terrorists "waiting us out" means six months of active operations against them with relatively few terrorist attacks -- we attrit them while they try to hole up and weather the storm. (Obviously, we won't have our own "six month waiting period." Far from it.)

Second, the Maliki government is to terribly weak, and so dependent on the support of thugs such as Moqtada al-Sadr, that it will not permit us to do what should be done to destroy the Shia militias and the Sunni insurgents. If we choose to operate regardless of Maliki's limitations, his government and the Iraqi constitution would be nullities. We'd be back where we were in 2003. Which may not be entirely a bad thing. If Maliki fell without taking the Iraqi constitution with him, a stronger coalition government has a chance to arise. Now, one does not.

So that's a wash, isn't it?

Third, without a clear military mission for the increased forces, we may - by default - start ordering them to perform routine street patrols that had been patrolled recently by Iraqis. They will be little more than moving targets for snipers and IEDs.

"May." But I doubt it. The extra troops would be there to sweep out terrorist anda militia held areas and then -- get this -- actually hold those areas so that the terrorists can't just come back a week later.

Further, many pundits note we have two necessary missions which cannot be accomplished with the current level of troops. First, we need a lot of troops to train the Iraqi army and police forces; second, we need a lot of troops to hunt terrorists and provide security. The more we do of the former the less we can do of the latter, and vice versa. A surge in troops would allow us to chew gum and walk at the same time.

Mario Loyola:

For those convinced that "more is better" when it comes to U.S. force levels in Iraq, Rumsfeld was a favorite target, because it was inconceivable that the generals on the ground really didn't want more troops. Well now, with Rusmfeld gone, and the head of Central Command speaking his mind, it emerges that the generals really don't want more troops.

I don't know that this tracks. Generals are mindful of what the boss thinks -- and what is possible. If the read they get from Rumsfeld is that there will be no more troops, and, further, no more troops are available, and further further, even asking for more troops is a political poison for the American public that may in fact undermine the war effort and prevent them from attempting to win even at current force levels, they will likely bow to reality and not ask for more troops. If it were possible -- and there were no counterveiling considerations -- I doubt that the generals would turn down one million American troops in Iraq to crush the insurgency and restore order in quick fashion. But of course we don't have anything like one million troops available. So what they want is, as is everything in life, circumscribed by what is actually possible.

And for those generals previously committed to that political reality -- well, retracting a previous statement is difficult for anyone.

If these new troops are to be used in random patrols (which Iraqis should be doing) and simply being fresh targets for the insurgents, then of course I'm against deploying them. (That is, in fact, why I long resisted the call for more troops myself.)

But somehow I doubt that's the role the DoD envisions for them.

The deteriorating security situation in Baghdad is at root not a military problem but a political one. All the troops in the world will not reduce the violence if a political reconciliation continues to elude the major warring factions—and the increased presence of U.S. troops is more certain to increase the violence than reduce it.

All the italicized distinctions in the world can't convince me that the military problem and political problem are linked, part of a spectrum, and failure in progress in one leads, inevitably, to failure in progress in the other. Political compromises tend to be had more quickly when one warring side is crushed militarily and has little other recourse, no? Armies don't sue for peace when they're winning, do they?

Finally, there is the aphorism that capitalism is the worst of all possible economic models, until you look at the others. Similarly, boosting troop strength may be the worst possible response to the violence, until you look at the other options -- continuing what we're doing now, which is not winning the war (not losing it, but not conclusively winning it) or simply bugging out of Iraq and hoping -- hoping! -- the terrorists aren't able to sue for peace on very favorable terms and wind up with a powerful, if not dominant, roll in the Iraqi government and Iraqi state.

If more troops aren't the answer, I need to know what the answer actually is, because if there is no likely strategy to actually win this thing, then I'm joining Dennis Kucinich and saying let's just get the hell out of there now and cut our losses.

Stanley Kurtz agrees in the main, addressing Mario Loyola's and Jed Babbin's arguments:

Mario, the other day you said, “all the violence in Baghdad makes it look like we’re losing the war, regardless [of] the pace of reconstruction or political progress.” Yet it strikes me that there is no political progress, only regress. Baghdad is a Hobbesian anarchy of independent militias (see that Robert Zelnick article, “Iraq: Last Chance.”) In such an atmosphere, there can be no political stability and no hope for anything other than the dominance of militias. A troop surge may or may not work at this point, but I don’t see how we save Iraq without one. The current situation is not one of gradual military-political progress. It is one of hastening decline toward inevitable disaster if nothing substantially new is done to stop it. Mario, you say that the “deteriorating security situation in Baghdad is at root not a military problem but a political one.” Well, that’s true in a sense. Yet politics, at its root depends on a monopoly of the legitimate means of force. In Iraq, there is no such monopoly on the national level. It exists–and then only tentatively–within tiny, local, militia controlled patches. So the root political problem is also, and simultaneously, a military problem. We either break the militias in the achingly slow, complicated, and methodical way recommended by Gerecht, or we concede that Iraq has fallen apart.

Again, Mario, I don’t mean to disparage the points that you and the military are making. You and Babbin make a powerful case that, militarily, the surge may not work, and may even be counterproductive. On the other hand, I can’t see pretending that, in the absence of a successful surge, there is any prospect of saving the situation.

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posted by Ace at 05:22 PM

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