The Surge

The only thing I’ll note about the surge is that it’s a political ploy. It’s not meant as a serious way of increasing American control of Iraq. On the one hand, the US needs 100,000 troops to control Iraq rather than 20,000. On the other, only 9,000 are available.

Nobody likes to admit failure. Bush can admit the Iraq adventure has incorrigibly failed, and withdraw in order to minimize further damage to Iraqis as well as to the US treasury. Between 3/03 and 7/06, 600,000 Iraqi civilians died of violent causes. Many of them had unknown perpetrator, but in about a third of the cases, it was pinpointed as the Coalition, for 5,000 civilians killed by the US and its allies every month they stay there.

Or, Bush can execute a last-minute surge, get a few myriad Iraqi civilians killed, stretch the US military further, and say that he keeps trying. That way he gets to blame the inevitable defeat on Congress or his successor; that blame won’t really be plausible, but 10 or 20 years down the line, it’ll help fan a Dolchstosslegende.

The Washington Post is now running an editorial by Michael O’Hanlon, A Skeptic’s Case For the Surge. O’Hanlon is trotting out the foreign policy equivalent of the “We need more studies” line on climate change:

However mediocre its prospects, each main element of the president’s plan has some logic behind it. On the military surge itself, critics of the administration’s Iraq policy have consistently argued that the United States never deployed enough soldiers and Marines to Iraq. Now Bush has essentially conceded his critics’ points. To be sure, adding 21,500 American troops (and having them conduct classic counterinsurgency operations) is not a huge change and may be too late.

But it would still be counterintuitive for the president’s critics to prevent him from carrying out the very policy they have collectively recommended.

The problem with the phrase “the very policy they have collectively recommended” is best expressed in an episode of The West Wing, Five Votes Down. The White House is trying to pass a gun control bill; the leader of the Black Caucus votes no on the grounds that the bill is so watered-down that “It’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”

The military recommended 300,000 troops. There are only 200,000 on the ground, including contractors. Adding anything substantially short of 100,000 will serve no purpose except increasing Bush’s political dick size (well, if you want to see Arab civilians killed, then I guess it’ll be okay for you, too).

O’Hanlon’s concrete solutions are nothing if not bad advice. First, his time limit:

Rather than deny funding for Bush’s initiatives, Congress should provide it now — but only for fiscal 2007 (meaning through September). By that point, or even the August congressional recess, we should know if the surge is showing promise. If it does, Congress could consider continuing its support. If not, the moment will be right to force the president’s hand and move to a backup plan.

Between January and September, the US military is expected to kill 40,000 Iraqis, most of them civilians, even without a surge. A surge that focuses on military counterinsurgency will kill many more. And the time limit sounds too Friedmanesque. Bush has shifted goalposts so much that even a guarantee in the State of the Union address to pull out by September if things don’t change won’t be credible. The time limit will be no different from “The next six months will be critical.”

The other solution, a Bosnian-style confederation, is even more brain-dead than believing the surge is a serious policy idea.

If Bush’s plan does not work, what might our new policy be? Taking the Shiite-Kurdish side in Iraq’s civil war (the “80 percent solution,” as some call it) would probably guarantee the emergence of a sanctuary for al-Qaeda in the Sunni Arab region and, as such, is a bad idea. Similarly, trying to engineer a coup to create a benign autocracy in Iraq would be very difficult to achieve. As Bosnia expert Edward P. Joseph and I have recently argued, building on the ideas of Sen. Joe Biden and Leslie Gelb, something akin to a Bosnia model for Iraq would make more sense. Iraq would retain a loose confederal structure, a small national government and a mechanism for sharing oil revenue equally. But governance and security would be provided primarily by three autonomous regional governments.

Citizens would be given the chance to relocate to places where they felt safe, with the government and the coalition providing protection in the process as well as assistance with new housing and jobs.

In principle, that idea works perfectly, as in Belgium and Switzerland. In practice, when people are shooting at one another, it’s a lot likelier that the situation will turn out as in Yugoslavia than as in pre-2006 Lebanon. You can’t pillarize a society in a state of civil war. A Latin American-style Presidential system might succeed in doing that, but the likeliest outcome is that Iraq will either split into three countries or undergo a genocide of Sunnis by Shi’as.


13 Responses to The Surge

  1. SLC says:

    Apparently, Mr. Levy has now broken ranks with his pal Mr. Packard and is recognizing that Iraq is three countries, not one country, much like the former Yugoslavia. Much as I hate to admit to being in agreement with Mr. Levy on anything, he has finally seen the light in this instance. The only prbolem is, how are we going to get the Sunnis and the Shiites to stop killing each other? That has to ba achieved before the proposed solution can go into effect. Here, the surge of troops may be of some assistance if an all out effort is made to destroy the militias of Muqtada al-Sadr, which should have been done 2.5 years ago. This was another of the multitude of blunders by the administration. It could have been done fairly quickly with a relatively low butchers’ bill back then. Now, I’m afraid the butchers’ bill will be very high as this scumbag has been allowed to augment his forces in the interim. Destroying al-Sadr would at least level the playing field between the Sunnis and the Shiites, perhaps causing them to come to their senses and strike a bargain. The probability of sucess is low, but maybe worth trying. Failure to eliminate al-Sadr will lead to a civil war in Iraq, the casualities of which will greatly exceed those of the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    I don’t think there is a way to get the Sunnis and Shi’as to stop killing each other. The best opportunity to avert that disaster was dashed on 2003/3/20. There is such a thing as screwing up a situation so much that there’s no hope of changing it for the better.

  3. whig says:

    Would you say that Fox “News” is pillarizing America?

  4. Alon Levy says:

    Fox News to pillarization is like a shack to the Empire State Building. Pillarization involves pillars with their own forms of recreation, media, cultural production, political parties, schools, hospitals, and workplaces. Evangelicals have some of those, but get only a wing of the Republican Party and are more of a subculture than a pillar, of status similar to this of black America. Conservatives at large are way too diffuse to be anything even approaching a pillar. They send their children to the same schools as liberals, get treated at the same hospitals as liberals, read the same local newspapers as liberals, work at the same places as non-unionized liberals, play the same sports as liberals, and eat the same food as liberals living in the same milieus.

  5. Bushbaptist says:

    Sunni’s and Shia will get along when there is a fair sharing of the resources. There is no oil resources in the Sunni area. The oil resources need to be shared out equally and fairly, something that won’t happen while the US is playing one off against the other.
    Balkanising the country won’t solve the conflict either. A country with two very wealthy states and one very poor one just ain’t gunna work. A Kurdistan in the north won’t work either. Turkey and Iran would be somewhat disturbed by having the Kurds stirring up trouble on their respective borders.
    You could just carve out a piece of territory from the surrounding lands and if the people who have lived there for millenia disagree you can just kill them or drive them out. Ah! But that hasn’t worked in the Palestine either. What to do – What to do??
    Bush has no exit strategy because there never was one. The US is going to have troops in Iraq forever or until the oil runs out, whichever comes first. You will be target until you leave.
    What a fine mess your Chimpinator-in-Chief has got you into.

  6. A Kurdistan in the north won’t work either. Turkey and Iran would be somewhat disturbed by having the Kurds stirring up trouble on their respective borders.

    Which is why I support moving our remaining troops into Kurdistan and supporting their independence. We should, if anything, be deterring Iranian and Turkish invasion of the only region that has not collapsed into ethnic strife and civil war. It would be a shameful thing to leave the Kurds hanging, once again.

  7. Alon Levy says:

    Turkey should be relatively easy to handle, given the right circumstances. If the US can convince the EU to offer Turkey expedited accession in return for recognition of Kurdistan, that particular situation will resolve itself. The problem is that the Bush has so thoroughly drained the US’s political capital reserves that it will need to offer Royal, who is against Turkish accession, something very attractive in return for cooperation.

  8. Axel says:

    Turkey should be relatively easy to handle??? A Turkish recognition of an independent Kurdistan in Iraq? You’re joking. Just a few articles dealing with the fear of consequences like a rising Kurdish separatiste movement and more PKK terror in Turkey:

    What are Turkey’s foreign policy interests in Iraq? Its primary interest is maintaining the unity of Iraq because they are very concerned about the rise of Kurdish nationalism. If Iraq does slide into civil war, the Kurds will seek their independence. […] And if they declare their independence, they will have to send it through Turkey. And [Turkey] won’t be too happy about an independent Kurdish state, to put it mildly.

    Council of Foreign Relations Interview: Cook: Friction in U.S.-Turkey Relations over Iraqi Kurdistan (August 31, 2006)

    Kurdish successes in Iraq’s elections, notably in the disputed oil centre of Kirkuk, have heightened Turkey’s worries about a future Kurdish drive for independence and Iraq’s consequent territorial disintegration. With domestic pressure increasing on Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ministers have hinted at renewed military intervention. […]

    Guardian: Poll success fuels Turkish fears over Kurdish independence (February 15, 2005),,1414689,00.html

    U.S. forces should operate from Iraq’s borders to stop the country from launching attacks against its neighbors and preventing any intervention by Turkey in the north in response to a Kurdish declaration of independence, the Financial Times said on Friday.
    In the comment written by former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim and entitled, “Why America should operate from Iraq’s borders,” the author said, “The U.S. should reposition its forces to foster regional stability and minimize casualties. Up to two brigades should be devoted to (Iraqi) Kurdistan and a roughly equal number to the far west of Anbar province.”
    Stressing that the forces in the Iraqi Kurdish region would help forestall a Kurdish declaration of independence that would prompt a Turkish intervention, he said the troops in western Iraq would help prevent both terrorist infiltration into Jordan and serious incursions from Syria. “They would also indicate to Damascus that it should not misinterpret a readiness to talk as a concession,” Zakheim added.

    The New Anatolian: FT: US should operate from Iraqi border to prevent Kurdish independence (06 January 2006)

  9. SLC says:

    Re DiPietro

    I have been advocating this approach for several weeks on this blog and others, mostly to negative responses. I would add that the presence of 140,000 US troops would also deter the Kurds from stirring up trouble in Turkey and Syria, which is the big concern of those countries. I do agree with Mr. Bushbaptist that there has to be an equitable division of the oil resources or the faction that is left out will never stop fighting.

  10. Alon Levy says:

    Turkey should be relatively easy to handle??? A Turkish recognition of an independent Kurdistan in Iraq? You’re joking.

    It all depends on how much the EU is willing to give them in return for international recognition of a Kurdistan whose territory is entirely outside Turkey’s.

  11. Axel says:

    What do you exactly mean by “how much”? Economic aid? NATO brigades? Atomic bombs? Turkey’s problem with a separate Kurdistan are the Turkish Kurds living in the southeast of Turkey and the existence of militant separatist movements, especially the PKK which is rated as a terrorist organization much more dangerous than Al-Qaeda. For Turkey, an independent Kurdistan is a vital question of stability, security and counterterrorism. I don’t see any connections between a guaranteed EU membership in, say, ten years and solutions to these security problems.

    Look at actual Turkish comments about the borderland security situation and the US “war” against PKK terrorists. You will see how embittered Turks are about the “effectiveness” of the US counterterrorism measures in the last years. Why should they trust the American idea of a peacefull independent Kurdistan?

  12. SLC says:

    Re Axel

    The presence of 140,000 US troops in Kurdistan detering the Kurds from stirring up trouble in Turkey should provide some reassurance to that country.

  13. Bushbaptist says:

    I disagree with partitioning Iraq mostly because if we do so for one then we must do it for others.
    Why don’t we just carve out a chunk of Spain for the Basques? Another for the Catalan? I suspect that Spain would be a bit pissed off with us for doing that!!
    Let’s Set up a Christian Holy home land in Israel/Palestine? Bet the Israelis would have something to say about that too.
    The Balkans are a classic example. A cluster of mini-states that are too small to ever be economic. Just a burden of the rest of us.
    The Iranians are just good Capitalists, they sell the weaponry to the insurgents in Iraq that is financed by Saudi Arabians. Millions of dollars are smuggled across the borders to pay for those weapons. Saudi Arabia is the real problem in the middle east – not Iraq or Iran.

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