The Surge In Delusions Is Working
On the anniversary of President Bush’s decision to send an additional 30,000 US combat soldiers to Iraq, the President’s neocon backers, led by Senators McCain and Lieberman, are proclaiming the surge a success (C&L has more). And from their perspective it is a success, even though the surge achieved none of the President’s stated goals. But I doubt those were ever the real goals.
It seems more likely that the strategic goal — apart from not wanting to be perceived as having "lost" Iraq — was to prolong the US military occupation in the heart of the Middle East as a counter to Iran. Whatever their effect on the Iraq front, the 30,000 additional combat troops would be positioned forward as a means of putting pressure on Iran. By sheer luck, however, the forward strategy got an unexpected boost when the Sunni tribes in Anbar and elsewhere turned on their more radical allies — those the Administration wants us to call "al Qaeda" — and stopped fighting Americans.
General Petraeus then bet that by bankrolling the Sunni Awakening Councils, he could essentially create and arm a counterforce to the Iranian influence without instigating a massive civil war with the Shia government. We’ve essentially bought and armed an 80,000 man Sunni militia ready to do war with the Iranian-backed Shia, and perhaps the Iranians themselves. It’s crazy and reckless, but the recklessly crazy neocons are thrilled at the prospects.
Even Petraeus doesn’t know whether his bet was wise or foolhardy. Bush and Petraeus created conditions that [they’ll claim] require us to remain there, perhaps indefinitely, to make sure our bought and paid for Sunni militia doesn’t turn on the Shia government that refuses to include them.
Cheney’s necons can now argue the major thing keeping a full scale civil war from erupting is the massive presence of US troops, plus continuously bankrolling the Sunni militia and allowing Sunni local self governance in defiance of a weakened central government. Any hopes of creating conditions that would allow an easy US withdrawal have thus been thoroughly undermined, but that doesn’t matter to the surge defenders. The next President will inherit a self-sustaining justification for an indefinite occupation. No wonder John McCain said recently he had no problem with a 100-1000 year occupation . . . as long as it’s only Iraqis dying.
In a moment of unusual candor last year, the President told his biographer that his goal was to lock the next Administration into a continued US military presence in Iraq. It appears he’s largely succeeded. There are no Presidential front runners in either party promising a total withdrawal of US forces in 2009, and none who challenge the central premise of US policy that the US occupation is a force for stability and peace rather than a cause of continued resistance.
Thomas Ricks appeared on Countdown to restate the themes of his and Karen De Young’s Washington Post article today. The Administration has essentially given up on claiming the US can actually produce reconciliation among the Iraqis. The strategy has evolved to "let the Iraqis figure it out."
The Administration’s forced conversion to a perverted form of Iraqi self determination comes just in time, because the "surge" is over. The inescapable math of troop availability will force Petraeus to give up about a combat brigade a month through the spring. He’s left with hoping the propaganda about the surge actually causing the reduction in violence is actually true. The more logical causal explanations include completed ethnic cleansing, massive dislocations/refugees, Sunni conversions and an opportunistic truce from the Mahdi Army, just as critics are claiming, but Petraeus will take whatever works.
Just as we saw in Afghanistan, the forced reduction in combat troops will encourage US commanders to rely more on air power — and bombing driven by imperfect ground intelligence will likely come at a price of killing more innocents, just as occurred in Afghanistan. Petraeus has little or no flexibility to extend the surge, because the Pentagon is already planning to shift another brigade to Afghanistan. It will probably be the first of several such "surges" into that country as they try to rescue the deteriorating situation on the border with a now chaotic Pakistan.