For God's sake, don't give in to this oversimplified and easily countered rhetoric. The failure is not in the escalation at all, based on the military logic involved. Wherever troop levels have been increased, it may well be possible to show an increase in security. Militarily, the surge has accomplished all that it can do. The soldiers have not failed to do what is in their power to do. Yes, the statistics have been spun wildly, as many pundits argue, but whether the overall Iraqi death toll is somewhat up or somewhat down, it is hard to argue with the U.S. administration when they say things are better than they would have been without those additional soldiers.
Arguing about the success or failure of the escalation traps us critics within the rhetorical frame of the administration. The issue has always been that the war itself, and the ongoing occupation, are utterly flawed--in philosophy, morality, legitimacy, implementation, and lack of exit strategy. The surge itself has succeeded brilliantly in buying President Bush half a year or more of stalling time. As with each phase of his previous stalling tactics, the realities of logistics and security impose a double-ratchet logic: We cannot leave until numerous intermediate conditions are right, and assessing or implementing those intermediate conditions can be postponed by any number of short-term political maneuvers, so the actual exit can continue to be postponed indefinitely. Even the Pentagon, by all accounts, is beginning to lose patience with this reality (red flag: after all, the rumored attack on Iran will require some of the assets now trapped in Iraq!).
For example, the administration absurdly maintains that the Iraqi government must achieve certain criteria of viability before we can withdraw. Why should we assume that any sane centrist Iraqi politician would definitely wish for his or her government to meet those criteria if the alternative is to allow the USA to continue pouring its resources into the country? Well, in fact, there are reasons for Iraqi centrists to wish for our departure, but the point is that the incentives on the Iraqi side to help us out are not clear at all.
Some argue that the early stages of a withdrawal should be marked by a change in occupation force mission from combat to support. What does that mean? I have never believed that American forces are so much more skilled at soldiering that they are indispensable as "support." Are there not Iraqis who know how to teach both military skills and military discipline? (If not, what have we been doing all these years? Who will account for all the resources we've already poured in to date?) The only legitimate mission for American forces in Iraq is to carry out an orderly and secure withdrawal; let the politicians in Iraq decide how to configure their own country and how to come to terms with the post-occupation insurgents.
After all, barring the use of wholesale slaughter and massive increases in imprisonment, the surge can, in the long run, only succeed in pushing opposition forces into a waiting mode. Even a new Iraqi military and police force will be no stronger or more stable than the political forces controlling them, and there is no guarantee that those forces will embrace values congenial to today's White House. In any case, that White House has not demonstrated:
- any willingness to be candid with us critics, or do anything other than talk down to us
- readiness to submit to public accountability for the disastrous deployment of precious national resources or the compromise of Constitutional values
- the capacity to assess conditions in Iraq competently or even to argue intelligently (depending for that mostly on pro-administration pundits);
Don't blame the surge; blame the surgeon. (And all those who've abdicated civilian oversight of the military, congressional oversight over the executive, and the people's oversight over the whole show. Hey, that's US.)
Afternoon PS: I'm not the only one who feels this way.
As a Christian pacifist, I have very mixed feelings about wading into a discussion of how to deploy or withdraw military forces. But soldiers are people, too. Family members of readers of this blog are serving in Iraq. Those soldiers deserve our full and active attention as citizens. We, the people they are presumably defending, must do our part--exerting our rightful accountability over those who sent our soldiers into danger.