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.