Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Follow Your Surges

[posted by Callimachus]

Frederick Kagan writes about the latest buzzword in a buzzword war: surge. "Surge" seems to be that rarest of things, a Latin word with muscle. (surgere "to rise," contraction of surrigere "to rise," a compound of sub "up from below" and regere "to keep straight, guide;" which is related to right).

Which makes Kagan's use of it appropriate, because he advocates a particularly muscular surge.

It is now time to abandon the failed strategy of “transition” and return to the basics of counter-insurgency and stability operations by bringing peace to the Iraqi people.

A war and an anti-war driven by a politicized mass media naturally devolves into an Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole experience, where words matter more than realities. The new SecDef seemingly had to pass only one confirmation test: Use the words "not winning in Iraq" in front of Congress. Anti-war types get all apoplectic over whether Bush calls it a "civil war" or not. "Stay the course" ... "mission accomplished" ... "cut and run." Everybody knows these; what kind of war is it where everybody on the home front can bicker about slogans and no one can name a hero?

"Surge" is just the latest of them. And like all the rest, it means different things to different people who use it. Some against the war seem to regard the "surge" as a fig-leaf for retreat and defeat, providing the excuse that, well, we gave it all we had. To others it's all about nothing but blaming the liberal peaceniks.

Talk about hubris. Kevin Drum used to be the kind of anti-war person I could respect. But this?

Conservatives long ago convinced themselves against all evidence that we could have won in Vietnam if we'd only added more troops or used more napalm or nuked Hanoi or whatever, and they're going to do the same thing in Iraq unless we allow them to play this out the way they want. If they don't get to play the game their way, they'll spend the next couple of decades trying to persuade the American public that there was nothing wrong with the idea of invading Iraq at all. We just never put the necessary resources into it.

Well, screw that. There's nothing we can do to stop them anyway, so give 'em the resources they want. Let 'em fight the war the way they want. If it works -- and after all, stranger things have happened -- then I'll eat some crow. But if it doesn't, there's a chance that the country will actually learn something from this.

Kevin doesn't believe for a moment that we can win in Iraq. He believes people -- American troops and Iraqi civilians -- are dying for nothing, for a mistake, for a lie. Yet he's willing to let more of them die, to support something that assuredly will kill more of them, for no other reason than to deprive his domestic political opponents of their bragging rights.

Not even his genuine domestic political opponents. Certainly I'm one of those who thinks invading Iraq was the least crappy of a short list of crappy options, or that South Vietnam was viable and defensible and we ought to have honored our commitments there, once made. But here he's dealing with the cartoon version. With Cindy Sheehan's Bush and Lyndon Johnson's Goldwater.

Can anything say more about the disconnect between even the thoughtful anti-war intellectuals and the real people who wear the uniform of the U.S. armed services, or the 24 million real people who call Iraq home? Does Kevin Drum know anyone personally in either group? Does he go to sleep at night worried about any of them?

Decision-making on that level is the kind of damnable commerce the anti-war movement attributes to the neo-cons.

Kagan, thankfully, still is thinking in terms of getting it right in Iraq. For him, the surge is an assertive and positive bid to pull the rabbit out of the hat. To me, it looks more like a re-do.

The increase in US troops cannot be short-term. Clearing and holding the critical areas of Baghdad will require all of 2007. Expanding the secured areas into Anbar, up the Diyala River valley, north to Mosul and beyond will take part of 2008.

It is unlikely that the Iraqi army and police will be able to assume full responsibility for security for at least 18 to 24 months after the beginning of this operation.

Whether you do it for Drum's reasons (to make politics easier for future Democrats in America) or Kagan's, you're going to get people killed. But at least with Kagan's version, a muscular and committed second attempt actually could work, and could save lives -- American and Iraqi -- in the long run.

But here we are, in the media, debating about words, debating about numbers, paying no attention to the spirit of the thing, the commitment. And to how to do it right.

Whatever is done differently now in Iraq will necessarily have to be dramatic and visible, so the Iraqis -- and the men and women in country -- will know this time we mean it. Those who fret only about a "broken" military in the current situation don't talk to many soldiers, at least not the same ones I learn from, or else they don't really know what "broken" means. Kagan can sense it:

This strategy will place a greater burden on the already overstrained American ground forces, but the risk is worth taking.

Defeat will break the American army and marines more surely and more disastrously than extending combat tours. And the price of defeat for Iraq, the region and the world in any case is far too high to bear.