Saturday, February 23, 2008

Has the Surge failed?

Nir Rosen in an article entitled "The Myth of the Surge" in Rolling Stone, asserts that the Surge has not only failed to bring long-term stability, but is going to backfire. Rosen claims the Surge has only managed to "arm both sides of the civil war".

The major ideas of the article are that the Sunnis have benefited from the Surge; that many of the US sponsored militias had ties to the insurgency and al-Qaeda; that the Iraqi National Police is largely Shi'ite; that participants in the Surge see cooperation with the US as an opportunity to achieve Sunni restoration. And all of these claims are to some extent true. From this Rosen concludes that Iraq is an a calm before another storm of ethnic cleansing. But does it follow?

Here are some assertions which are also true. How do we square them with Rosen's thesis? The Shi'ites are no longer helpless; the former insurgents are now in open view, visible to intelligence and some extent under discipline; the killing (which Rosen believes will pick up in the future) has largely stopped; Sunni refugees have returned; business is up. But most importantly, the Iraqi Army which will exceed more then 13 divisions in strength, is multi-ethnic. Does this sound like a nation about to fall apart?

Maybe. But the odds Iraq will fall apart is much smaller today than it was a year ago. All the surveys taken show a remarkable desire among the ordinary populace to keep the country together. The Surge has not yet won. But neither, as Rosen suggests, has it lost.

The key fact which Rosen's article omits is that the Sunnis are attempting to creep back into the national life on American terms. They have decided to attach themselves to the victors in the role of the defeated. To argue that a surrender represents a subversion may have some force, but not much. The Germans and the Japanese did as much.


Blogger Tarnsman said...

Memes die hard, especially those in which a great deal of political capital has been invested, and on which the outcome of next political cycle may hinge. It is the interest of the Left and their media allies to always couch their grudgingly acknowledgments of the successes in Iraq with their "But....." Even if President Bush walked the streets of Baghdad shaking hands and kissing babies while the Iraqis chanted at the top of their lungs, "Bush! Bush! Bush!" the media would find a way to say "Even though some would say......". Hopefully someday the success in Iraq will be undeniable and they will at long last have to eat their crow.

2/24/2008 01:42:00 AM  
Blogger Jrod said...

Rolling Stone is right there between Mad Magazine and The Onion on my coffee table. Sadly, there are many who consider their National Affairs column serious, informed political commentary; to be equally considered along with the latest Jay-Z album review.

2/24/2008 04:37:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew X said...

The Stone may be doing us chickenhawk fascists a favor here.

This article is the closest thing you will get to a reasoned (?), factually-backed (?), argument that supports the Reid/Pelosi/MoveOn argument that all is woe, gloom and terror, things are worse not better, blah blah.

And you know what? In one year, dare I say in October, it will be patently obvious just who is right here and who is wrong. And this article ain't going anywhere. The memory hole is closed and sealed.

The Stone has gone out on, not a huge, but a medium size limb here. (They are not TIME or Newsweek.) And there, insh'alla, will come a day when those who were wrong in these analyses will get hammered by those who were right.

And when we do the hammering, and we will, let us not ignore the philosophical and psychological underpinnings of an article like this one in the Stone. Does this author WANT to win, and is lamenting a lost victory? Uh huh. And the National Enquirer WANTS Britney to get better.

How could they ever feel otherwise? That would make them terrible people.

2/24/2008 07:02:00 AM  
Blogger Fen said...

And we already know their script once Iraq is in the clear: the Soviet Empire fell all on its own, despite Reagan's policy becomes Iraq got better all by itself, despite Bush's policy

2/24/2008 07:30:00 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

So, what's new? The Iraqi society is what it is. Taking over from the Baath regime 'failed state' and finding a new way to accomodate the Iraqi players has been the historic challenge from day one, indeed ever since our posture on Iraq was set at regime change during the Clinton administration. Not just of the actors, but of the nature of the Iraqi state itself.

It's a sequential process. We can't impose a pre-fab state, but we can work organically with the Iraqis, as they are, to set a direction, influence and aid each step of development, and do what we can to provide necessary conditions. There aren't pretty, quick and easy answers; it's not a process that lends to an uninterruptd stream of attractive snapshots.

We can all agree Iraq is coming from a bad situation. If they weren't, we wouldn't be doing what what we're doing today. Some would argue, though, that the previous situation is the best Iraq can do. Looking at the situation Iraq is in now as Rosen is doing, there's a choice of view: one can view Iraq from a perspective of what they've been, or one can view Iraq from a perspective of what they can be.

At this frozen moment in time, arguments can be made for pessism or optimism. Optimism is harder, but as a progressive liberal, I choose to view Iraq as it can be.

The local historical comparison I like to use as a frame of reference for our project in Iraq is Reconstruction following our Civil War. Again, not pretty nor quick, filled with missteps, lost opportunities, and political and human failings, but a direction was set and change was put in motion. Today, we are still living with effects of the Civil War and the post-war, but it was a regime change that we had to see through.

2/24/2008 07:58:00 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

fen: "And we already know their script once Iraq is in the clear: the Soviet Empire fell all on its own, despite Reagan's policy becomes Iraq got better all by itself, despite Bush's policy"

Well, Dems have already said that any progress that has been made in Iraq was not due to the "surge" and the Petraeus-led COIN campaign, but due to the Democrats' threats to abandon Iraq, which I guess, got the Iraqis scared straight. On one hand, that's a remarkably illiberal, arrogant, and callous position for self-identified liberals - I would even go so far as to say irresponsible; on the other hand, it implies acknowledgement of the responsibility and critical role the US holds in Iraq's fate.

As a progressive liberal, for me, one of the domestic political tragedies to come out of OIF has been the wholesale abandonment of core liberal principles by self-identified liberals. They've adopted its opponent, right-wing realism, seemingly for the sake of wresting power from the GOP and opposing the Bush administration.

Even if Obama or Clinton wins the White House and restores the Democrats' tradition of liberalism, how will Iraqi leaders be able to trust the new American regime after Democrats have essentially cheered publicly for their downfall in favor of the previous regime for 5-plus years?

2/24/2008 08:29:00 AM  
Blogger talnik said...

Why on earth are you reading "Rolling Stone"? Americans stop reading it at puberty.

2/24/2008 08:31:00 AM  
Blogger |3run0 said...

The civil war has been fought. The sunnis lost. Even with American support, the CLC/SoI will never be as well armed as the insurgency was in 2005/2006; while the ISF are much stronger now. It would take a great deal of strategic stupidity for the sunnis to believe they can restart and win the civil war. Which of course doesn't guarantee it won't happen; but I find it unlikely.

I'm not terribly optimistic about Iraq; the sunnis will likely become yet another neglected Middle Eastern minority, and odds are Iraq will become another dysfunctional but non-exploding Arab country (I hope I'm wrong. There is still some slim hope for a better outcome). But I'm glad Iraq seems to have dodged two bullets in the past year: An AQ victory/safe haven; and a Rwanda-style outcome.

2/24/2008 08:41:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Rolling Stone's other big argument is on whether or not to admit The Monkey's to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Who the hell is Nir Rosen, and why should we believe a word s/he spins?

2/24/2008 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

The political left focuses on winning the argument, not solving the problem. For them the problem is they don't have enough power. The argument is we should give it to them.

I would not be surprised by a spike in violence tied to the US political calendar. A few truck bombs will give "The civil war redo" meme life -- with a lot of help from the MSM, of course. You don't have to be a seer to predict this. And when does Sadr's cease fire end? August?

I suspect any spike in violence will be the insurgents "last gasp" but sufficient for their purpose. They will be urged on by Syria and Iran. The will vote Democrat.

Most Iraqis won't go along. They may even thwart it. They will vote Republican.

The Sunnis are a rather friendless lot right now. A federal state with a share of the oil revenues makes sense -- rather than be a sandy back-patch of some greater Syria or Saudi Arabia. The Arab Shiite population fears the Persians. So staying together with their Sunni cousins -- and they often enough are cousins -- makes sense. The Kurds? They may be the joker in the deck -- stability may not favor their ultimate cause -- but near term they need peace.

2/24/2008 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

Who is Nir Rosen?

Mr Rosen is a young pundit who has staked his career on advocacy for the failure of OIF, specifically, and American internationalism, in general.

2/24/2008 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger Coyotl said...

There was once another name for the Anbar Awakening that has now been stuffed into the memory hole: "Baathist Dead-Enders". It is truly amazing to see these unreconstructed scum put back in power, without war trials or any nod to justice.

Wretchard writes: "The key fact which Rosen's article omits is that the Sunnis are attempting to creep back into the national life on American terms. They have decided to attach themselves to the victors in the role of the defeated."

Completely unsupported hogwash. The Anbar awakening is utterly alienated from both the Shiite dominated Parliament and, due to tribal differences, the minority Sunni Arab political parties. They are not trying to "creep back" into national life at all, but carve out their own warlord niches. The Awakening has been granted what they've been fighting for since 2003: AUTONOMY. They're not about to sacrifice it to a Shiite Islamist government they loath. When it comes to painting the surge as an unvarnished victory, there is an air of unreality and disengagement with basic facts that is simply surreal.

It is not at all difficult to find many accounts of clashes and killings between US and Iraqi Army forces and our alleged allies in the Awakening. Rosen is right, the US has armed both sides, and neither Shiite Islamists nor Sunni Islamists will ever be our trustworthy allies in Iraq.

2/24/2008 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger Izzie said...

Was listening to NPR the other day - the UK Independent( leftist rag) correspondent was on. Was going on and on about how Sadr will not extend the cease fire and war will break out again. This was on Thurs. - the envelopes announcing the decision (to extend) had already been distributed for reading at Fri. prayers and had "leaked" but this clown pretended like the decision was still in doubt - had it gone the other way, I'm sure he would have been sure to trumpet the "news". In other words, hoping for any objectivity from this crowd is like Charlie Brown hoping the football won't get snatched again - you'll be disappointed every time, so don't even bother.

2/24/2008 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

It is truly amazing to see these unreconstructed scum put back in power, without war trials or any nod to justice.

I take it you also disapprove of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South Africa's Reconciliation program?

Were all the individual Germans and Japanese who had been soldiers during WW2 tried as war criminals? Or just the biggies in charge, which is what is being done in Iraq, and the mid-level bureaucrats who were still alive were allowed to go back to their jobs in burned out Berlin and demolished Hiroshima.

I believe, too, there were "clashes" between the conquering Allies and left-over German and Japanese fighters for several years after WW2 was officially over.

Other than an over-abundance of spittle and vitriol on your part, I just don't see where your rant proves anything one way or the other.

If it makes any difference, I will grant you that it appears tht Iraqi's both Sunni and Shiite are more barbaric than either Germans or Japanese. But then, not having been alive to pay attention when we were actively interacting with both of those countries, I could be wrong.

2/24/2008 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger Craigicus said...

Just say the fellow is correct and the Anbar Awakening becomes the re-armed Fedayeen.

What then?

Well, I don't mind it as much as I thought I would. To me, with the Awakening, the best chance ever has been given to the various parties to negotiate a political settlement.

If the major parties choose not to take it, then we can say that they had the choice.

I don't think the Sunnis will want to get too far away from the Americans or a rock solid political agreement because what is left of them can be forcibly run out of the country.

I think the Sunnis are really just trying to get their armor up to present the bloodiest version of that elimination to the Shiites -- so that they can get more at the bargaining table.

2/24/2008 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

The side of an argument that keeps having to switch memes is losing the debate.

First it was that military victory was impossible. Then it was that political reconciliation was impossible. Now, it's that we're arming both sides of a notional future civil war.

When people start justifying arguments based on future events, watch out! There was no WMD, after all. We can't predict the future.

How the hell does anyone know what is going to happen in a place as chaotic as Iraq? No one predicted the entire course of the war. No one. Period. It's not knowable what the situation will be in five or ten years. That article is just narrative tap dancing.

I could come up with an argument just as convincing- that the violence that tore up Iraq has deradicalized the population and that most people just want peace. How do we know which is right? We don't.

Any idea presented by a talented and knowledgeable person can be made to sound good. We have to remain wedded to what is actually happening, right now, that we can observe.

In Iraq have to settle for setting an objective while taking advantage of opportunities. The Awakening was just that- a giant opportunity that fell into our lap that we wisely took advantage of. That opportunity would not have appeared if we had quit in 2005. Sometimes in a war it pays to keep fighting until something changes. This time it has.

So, when the civil war doesn't happen, the antiwar crowd will make up something else. Or if it does, it will probably happen for completely different reasons.

Iraq has made fools of everyone, and it's a good lesson in how the world is not just a mirror for American actions. People are not predictible, and the more different they are from our own culture, the less predictible they become.

2/24/2008 04:49:00 PM  
Blogger Storm-Rider said...

I won't be optimistic about Iraq - or any other nation under terror or tyranny - until their people in mass publically declare:

1. All people are created equal

2. All people have been endowed by their Creator with the rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness - where liberty is defined as it is in our Constitution

3. Governments are formed in order to secure the above rights - not to grant them

4. Just government power always derives from the consent of the governed

5. From many tribes and peoples, i.e.: Sunni, Shia, Kurd, one nation can be formed based on the above principles

I would love to see this happen in Iraq and elsewhere, but there are many enemies of liberty.

2/24/2008 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

John Lynch:

"... deradicalized the population"

I think from the start, a majority of Iraqis were not radical and did support a post-Saddam liberal transition. That said, though fewer in number, radicals were relatively empowered and willing to kill and destroy, which gave them a major comparitive advantage over the Iraqis who stood out for their willingness to assist the transition, who were killed or at least intimidated. And, whatever killing capabilities the sectarian opposition lacked was made up for by foreign terrorists. A few days ago, desert rat made a comment in The Belmont Club using a WP article that has been widely cited by anti-war activists as proof American promises of democracy were a lie, back when democratization was popularly viewed as a noble goal rather than a pejorative: Occupation Forces Halt Elections Throughout Iraq.

I understood the article in a different way than desert rat. You can read my full response in the thread; basically, the WP piece backed up 1st-person anecdotes told to me by friends who served in OIF I and my own (limited) experience with Iraqis saying that most Iraqis did place their hopes in the American-led post-war transition. However, their trust was (understandably) conditional and guarded. It had its limits - common sense. The enemy successfully exploited those limits at the same time Bremer and the CPA, while well-intentioned, were insufficiently competent to accomplish their mission. We did hold it at a crucial moment, but like that general said in Blackhawk Down, we lost the initiative.

That's not to say we are so empowered that, even if we hadn't made mistakes, I believe things definitely would not have fallen apart - we are in a competition against a competent enemy, after all. But I am saying that a liberal post-Saddam Iraq was never a hopeless quixotic cause; there are reasons in Iraq we can succeed if we can overcome the reasons we'll fail.

"... it's a good lesson in how the world is not just a mirror for American actions."

Agreed. Even where our power is greatest, we can only influence, we don't control, because outside of our own states and territories, we're not an empire. That's a lesson I learned when I deployed as a young soldier to Korea (late 90s, not the war). I first went to Korea with the BS lefty notion that we were 'occupying' Korea. I then wondered how 30,000 spread out American troops could occupy a nation when surrounded by Korea's large, robust military. As I was exposed to our secret op-plans, I realized we weren't occupying anything, except in the literal sense of taking up space in our camps and bases. We actually were in Korea for the reason we said we were there - fulfilling a 50 year old promise to help defend the ROK against nK aggression. Nothing more. Korea had its own independent government, society, economy, etc, over which we had some influence as a partner in several spheres, but we didn't dominate it. The Koreans allowed us in Korea because it was in their best interest, and our mission there was honorable. That realization caused me to leave behind my youthful lefty-leaning beliefs about the US role in the world.

Americans are the ones, since we took the lead in WW2, who've held ourselves as leaders responsible for the state of the world. Excluding perhaps the Brits and Aussies, most of our allies are looking out for their own interests and are willing to assent to our leadership as far as it serves their interests. A key ingredient for our continued presence in Iraq and Iraqi cooperation with us is that it serves Iraq's interests. I believe it's not too late and most Iraqis, as much as they've been battered by the enemy, still agree that a liberal post-Saddam Iraq serves Iraq's interests.

2/24/2008 05:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is Nir Rosen?

Thanks, Eric, for the plug:

The Education of Nir Rosen.

There are two ways to become a journalist. One way is to start as a cub reporter and work your way up through the ranks. The other way is to wait for a war to break out and then get to the frontlines as a freelancer and report from there, hoping your stories get picked up by mainstream media. Rosen chose the second approach and, while working as a bouncer in a Washington, D.C., nightclub, waited for the right foreign destination to explode, where he would then use his dissident views to help expose the myriad wrongs done around the world in the name of American imperialism.

The rest of the article covers Rosen's peculiar background and his fastlane entry into journalism.


2/24/2008 07:54:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

Just a guy who takes a bumper sticker as an axiomatic truth. That is the old Einstein quote (can not find any actual evidence he said it) "You can not simultaneously prepare for war and achieve peace" or some such.

2/25/2008 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger talnik said...

OK, I know I'm going to be slammed for this but...after reading Nir Rosen's bio, and Chomsky's and Finkelstein, and Soros's and a bizillion other writers, pols and celebs...why do so many jewish Americans hate being jewish and hate America?Are there some radicalized Rabbis out there nobody is talking about? These people would be imprisoned or worse in most other countries.

2/25/2008 07:34:00 AM  

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