Sunday, January 28, 2007

Thoughts on the Surge

As I digest what will hopefully be my last Sunday dinner in Iraq, I figure I should answer the few of you who have been asking me what I thought of the latest surge plan.  I'll start out with a few disclaimers.  First, I have no special inside knowledge into what's going on here.  I'm basing my opinion largely on what I read in news reports.  Second, I'm not an expert, and my opinion is just that, an opinion.  It's probably wrong, and many people much smarter than I are working the problem.  Third, as an active duty member of the military, I've sworn an oath to obey the orders of my Commander in Chief and I will continue doing so.
Now, a few thoughts about the current plan:
  • The U.S. Military can be expected to succeed at any particular task assigned to it.  Specifically, the 20,000 extra troops sent to secure areas of Baghdad can be expected to complete that mission successfully.  Personally, however, I don't know what that will get us.  Will it buy us time to proceed with more reconstruction? Create jobs? Make life better for the moment?  Yes.  But that improvement will only last as long as we stay, and I don't foresee our country collectively having the stomach to stick it out as long as it takes.  And any gains we make will be undone when we leave unless the Iraqi government steps up.
  • In light of the above point, it is good to note that this is not a military war.  It is a political one.  Iraq, and the insurgents, have very little organized military power.  Unfortunately, the media and anti-war politicians are helping the insurgents get their message out by wavering in their support and encouraging opposing forces to continue attacking.  In particular, the current move in Congress to pass resolutions opposing the President are a horribly bad idea.
  • The Government of Iraq is more disfunctional than the U.S. Congress.  And they aren't getting any better, and won't, until they are in extremis.  The surge will do nothing to put more pressure on the Iraqi government.
  • General Petraeus, who was just confirmed as the top General here, is the Army's counter insurgency expert.  If anybody knows how to succeed here, he does.  He should be given a chance to implement his doctrine.  I think we'll know by mid-Summer whether we're having any success.
  • The Iraqi Army is slowly growing and slowly getting better.  You can't build an army overnight.  You can't rush the process.  Yes, there are deep problems with it, but the media highlights the few exceptions to the generally good news coming out of the transition teams.
  • The Iraqi culture is utterly different than our own.  If it turns out that this policy fails, it is not a failure of the US, but rather a choice of the Iraqis: in particular, their government.  If they choose to perpetuate their culture of violence and sectarian divisions, there's not much we can do to help them, and we need to back away and let them figure it out for themselves.


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