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November 20, 2007

Firepower, Willpower, Staying Power: Was It The Surge That Won Iraq, Or Our Troops' Previous Undauntability?

I wanted to write about this somewhat obvious but still worthy point for a week -- and composed it in my head over coffee today -- but Rand Simberg seems to have beaten me.

It's not that the surge isn't working -- it is. It's that the surge is chiefly taking advantage (and crucial advantage) of trends which actually began before the surge. Namely, the fact that insurgency had run out of fight before our troops did, and Al Qaeda had by then worn out its welcome. The surge was, I guess, a necessary but not sufficient precondition for ultimately securing Iraq. It was the three years of hard fighting before that set the new strategy up to work.

And Simberg is reading my mind here when he gives Bush political credit for his "stubbornness" on this issue.

But I think that the most important factor was simply that the Iraqis tired of the insurgency and Al Qaeda. I think that Petraeus was the right man at the right time, but I don't think that it takes anything away from him to question how well the strategy would have worked two, or three years ago. It probably would have been better than what we were doing at the time, but I think that the time had to be ripe for the awakenings in Anbar and Diyala, and now in Baghdad. It may be that the Iraqis simply had to go through this brutal period to understand the barbarity and viciousness of the fundamentalists that were attempting to colonize them, as they had Afghanistan under the Taliban, and the benefits of working with Americans and each other, rather than trying to fight each other for the spoils of the war.


I don't think that it was ever realistic to think that we were going to get a well-functioning democracy quickly in Iraq, even if we managed to get votes much more quickly than most predicted. Anyone who has studied military history knows that wars, and insurrections, are generally long protracted periods of one disaster after another, until one side finally throws in the towel. World War II was a series of bloody blunders, in both theaters, but we had the will and the resources to continue on regardless until the enemy was finally defeated. That's why I was never as critical of Bush and Rumsfeld as many were. Not to say I think the decisions flawless, but sometimes things have to happen at their own pace, regardless of tactics. The only wars that America has lost are those in which it got tired, and gave up.

One fears that the attention-deficit, teevee-remote, video-game generation won't have the patience to win the long war against our new ideological enemy, which is likely to continue for decades, as our war against totalitarian communism did. But give the president credit for standing firm in the face of the surrender demands of the Democrats after the election. I think that history, however else it judges him, will be kind to him in that regard, and less so to the Reids and Pelosis.

I still wish Bush and Rumsfeld had surged earlier, but it is possible that had they moved earlier, it wouldn't have worked -- the timing may not have been right. This is not to credit Bush and Rumsfeld as being precognitive, merely fortunate in the timing off having their hands forced, perhaps, in that their refusal to surge earlier may haven not have been as harmful as earlier imagined.

Another possible cause for the exhaustion of insurgency, and Al Qaeda, was the 2006 Democratic Congressional victory -- and then the realization months later that while they had won a victory on the relatively easy battlefield of US public opinion, those troublesome US troops still weren't going anywhere soon. And, in fact, even more off them were on their way.

That had to be a rather bad surprise for them, like Lucy pulling the football away at the last moment. Lord knows a similar morale-depressing effect gripped America when we thought we'd won the war in 2003 only to have the insurgency slap us bloody in the face; jihadis and insurgents aren't immune to the disappointment of dashed hopes, either.

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posted by Ace at 02:45 PM

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