Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Surge of Misunderstanding

Well, it seems there is no way to avoid wading into the "Surge" argument: on one side, as troops remain bogged down in Iraq with no end in sight, critics of the war and occupation point to the quagmire and say "the Surge has failed." On the other hand, war supporters and those with a vested interest in defending their position of advocacy point to the reductions in American combat deaths, civilian casualties, and IED encounters, and say, "the Surge is working."

Both are missing the point, one through a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between strategy and tactics in Iraq, and one deliberately, for political gain.

Contrary to what John McCain says, the surge is not a strategy. The surge is a tactic-an action designed to produce a tangible result-one tactic, within the larger framework of an integrated conceptual plan, comprised of multiple, scaffolded operations, all designed to accomplish a strategic goal-a strategy. In World War 2, Eisenhower's instructions were to "undertake operations directed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces." This is a strategic goal-how Ike chose to accomplish this-his tactics-were largely up to him, and it is important to note that a shift in tactics does not necessarily indicate a shift in strategy. The corresponding strategic goal in Iraq could be written as: "undertake operations designed to defuse the risk of an Iraqi civil war and create political reconciliation between the warring factions." The actual strategy would be the body of integrated operations (tactics), each built upon the success of the last, that accomplishes the strategic goal.

So, the tactics:

A surge in troop strength, along with a redeployment of forces from large concentrations into smaller, foward-operating bases, where American forces can react flexibly to local, fluid, conditions. Increased use of airpower to minimize US troop exposure. Making contact with Sunni insurgent groups and assuring them that they will be protected from a Shia-conducted genocide, and cementing the committment by supplying these same insurgent groups-so recently bombing, shooting, and killing Americans-with both money and weapons, in return for their cooperation. Using political pressure on the Shia-dominated Maliki government to reconcile with the Sunnis and the Kurds: the primary sticking points here being allocation of Iraq's oil wealth for the benefit of all Iraq, and protection of political rights for the Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

What has happened here is this: The combination of troop-strength increases and bribery has indeed improved security. US casualties, Iraqi civilian casualties, roadside-bombing, and IED incidents are all sharply down. What has failed is the reconciliation effort, easily seen in the absence of passage of any oil law and the lack of political rapproachment,-and, in the same way a tripod will collapse if a leg is removed, the US strategy in Iraq collapses, though two legs may stand tall.

On a political, Presidential-election level, the danger is this: by incorrectly lumping the entire strategy under the label "the Surge", the Democrats give John McCain and the Republicans the ability to say things like this:

"Post-surge troop strength levels have improved security. Since improved security was the goal of the surge, the surge is a success. Since we agree that the surge is the strategy in Iraq, our strategy in Iraq is therefore a success."
"What, you Democrats-you liberals-say? The Surge has failed? You are blind to reality by your own partisan bile. If the Surge has failed, how do you account for the reductions in casualties? You simply wish to raise the white flag of surrender. You are obviously dishonest, inept in international relations, and are clearly unqualified to be President."

To the layperson, this sounds convincing, and protestations to the contrary sound like the whining technicalities of someone caught in the act. Of course, the argument is predicated on the acceptance of "the Surge" as "the Strategy". No Democrat or war opponent should ever refer to the "Surge strategy". If the Democrats fall into that semantic trap, they lose the argument...and, quite possibly, the election.

No; the surge-and-bribery tactic has been a success, for now. It is the strategy that has failed.

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