Last Thursday the Washington Post published a column by Michael Kinsley about The Surge titled “Defining Victory Downward.” Here are a few excerpts:
It was also, implicitly, part of a deal between Bush and the majority of Americans, who want out. The deal was: just let me have a few more soldiers to get Baghdad under control, and then everybody, or almost everybody, can pack up and come home.
In other words: you have to increase the troops in order to reduce them. This is so perverse on its face that it begins to sound zen-like and brilliant, like something out of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” And in General David Petraeus, the administration conjured up its own Sun Tzu, a brilliant military strategist.
… the best that we can hope for, in terms of American troops risking their lives in Iraq, is that there will be just as many in July — and probably in January, when Bush leaves office — as there were a year ago. The surge will have surged in and surged out, leaving us back where we started.
Imagine that you had been told in 2003 that when George W. Bush finished his second term, dozens of American soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis would be dying violently every month; that a major American goal would be getting the Iraqi government to temper its “debaathification” campaign so that Saddam Hussein’s former henchmen could start running things again (because they know how); and that “only” 100,000 American troops would be needed to sustain this equilibrium.
You might have several words to describe this situation, but “success” would not be one of them.
I had the column fresh in my mind while I watched the Obama/Clinton debate that evening. I thought maybe some of these ideas would make it into their responses to questions about whether or not they thought the surge has been successful. They both danced around the perimeter a bit, but never really challenged the notion that the surge has been a success.
I emailed N.J. Barnes, a contributor to this site, to see what his thoughts were, and he had this to say:
That’s because they’re each afraid of being tagged as a naysayer. But the generals themselves would admit, if pressed, that the Sunni “Awakening” and Sadr’s decision to tell his people to back off have more to do with quelling the violence than the so-called “surge” which started after the Awakening awoke. None of that is to to disparage the American military effort which has been much more effective under Patraeus, no question. Their task has been made infinitely less difficult by the fact that they could afford to concentrate their efforts on al-Qaida-in-Iraq and with the help of local Sunni tribesmen who were previously shooting at us and blowing us up.
But what Bush and Patraeus and Gates really are saying is that there is no end in sight; that if we draw down, the thing will fall apart. So with no real satisfactory end in sight, how is that success?
Best to tell the Iraqis we’ve done our bit and we plan to withdraw one year from the date the new Pres (hopefully not McCain) takes office. The Iraqis in the final analysis must be prepared to take responsibility for their own country. And if it falls apart so be it. A lesson for us, hard learned, for the future.