Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The urge for the surge

Lots of people have been criticizing President Bush's proposed "surge" of troops into Iraq. Frankly, I don't know whether or not it's a good idea or a bad idea because, frankly, I don't know what his goal is. (And to be clear, "success at our mission," as Bush describes it, is not a goal. It's a description of whether or not you've met your goal. I still don't know what his goals for Iraq are, frankly, although I have some of my own.)

Anyhow, there's sort of a predictable and reflexive response from many - mostly, but not exclusively, from the left - opposing the surge. I think that's as absentminded as the surge proposal itself.

As I see it, the surge could be exactly what we need, or just putting more troops into harms way, but it depends on how they're used. In other words, the surge is neither a good idea or a bad idea - mostly, it's a tactical move rather than a strategic move, and I have no idea whether or not it actually supports our strategy. (Hmmmm....actually, I think the problem is that I don't have a good idea what our strategy itself is). As an essentially tactical decision, I also have a quibble with the fact that Bush spent months agonizing about what to do in Iraq only to come up with a tactical move that he could have ordered one morning over coffee. But I digress...

Here's the thing. It's been said so often that it's cliché at this point, but I'll say it anyhow: the problem in Iraq is fundamentally a political problem, not a military one. This is something that the left has repeated and that the White House still doesn't seem to understand. But equally true is something that the White House points out that the left seems to ignore: you can't solve anything politically until there is stability on the ground. If the surge can provide the stability that is the substrate for any conceivable political solution, then hooray - it's a critical and necessary move.

Of course, that then begs the following question: "Mr. President, now that the surge has been successful and the streets of Baghdad are quiet, how do you ensure that they will stay quiet and won't need a massive military force (ours or Iraqi) for centuries to come?" If the President has an answer to this, then the surge is the right medicine at the right time (no, scratch that - a year or 3 too late), and I'd love to hear the political strategy.

Absent any clear coherent political strategy - or even a strategy for a strategy - the surge is just going to put more gasoline on the fire.

I'm not an advocate of a withdrawal from Iraq. Right or wrong, we made this mess, we need to fix it. (And full disclosure: I felt that invading Iraq was the right decision, albeit for different reasons than Bush provided. It's the subsequent management of Iraq that I think has been so disastrous.) The surge is a tactical move that could provide the opportunity - through stability on the ground - to actually address core issues and actually achieve a stable, democratic Iraq (something that I feel would indeed be an unambiguously Good Thing), or it could just result in more body bags. My fear is that Mr. Bush hasn't thought it through in this way.

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