May 29, 2007

Will The Surge Miss Its Goals?

The Pentagon has grown convinced that the political goals of the surge will not be met by the time the supplemental expires, the Los Angeles Times reports today. Only one of the three main reforms still has a chance for implementation by September, and the oil revenue plan still has to work its way through a parliament taking the bulk of the summer as a vacation:

U.S. military leaders in Iraq are increasingly convinced that most of the broad political goals President Bush laid out early this year in his announcement of a troop buildup will not be met this summer and are seeking ways to redefine success. ...

Enactment of a new law to share Iraq's oil revenue among Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions is the only goal they think might be achieved in time, and even that is considered a long shot. The two other key benchmarks are provincial elections and a deal to allow more Sunni Arabs into government jobs.

With overhauls by the central government stalled and with security in Baghdad still a distant goal, Petraeus' advisors hope to focus on smaller achievements that they see as signs of progress, including local deals among Iraq's rival factions to establish areas of peace in some provincial cities.

In truth, these goals will not be redefined as much as the expectations revised towards reality. The Iraqis have come closest to oil-revenue sharing because it is the one topic on which they all agree action is necessary. Everyone in Iraq is a stakeholder in that debate, and they actually have a proposed law that has entered the final processes of deliberation.

For the other proposed reforms, these conditions do not exist. Provincial elections might be closest, but at least two of the provinces are not yet stable enough to conduct them. Anbar and Diyala have active insurgencies and al-Qaeda networks that, for the moment, preclude the kind of census-taking and building of electoral infrastructure to allow it. The second, the reversal of de-Ba'athification, doesn't even have majority support from the Iraqis. Both the Shi'ites and the Kurds have no desire to see their former oppressors back in power, even within the confines of a Shi'ite majority government. They want to see them tried for their crimes, not allowed back into the bureaucracies, especially those with control of security services.

In that sense, the surge will not present much success for the Bush administration come September. That will make the task of funding continuing operations in Baghdad more difficult, to be sure. However, it may well be that the military goals of the surge -- a reduction in insurgent activity and the dismantling of terrorist networks -- will show significant progress by then. And as General Petraeus and his staff propose, the better short-term goal on which to focus would be the cooperation and support within Iraq for the counterinsurgency strategies employed by the US this year.

By September, if Petraeus has scoped the situation correctly, the political progress of reforms may not be terribly relevant. He's betting that the tribal alliances the US is building, and the increased engagement of Sunni tribes in the political process, will demonstrate more than enough progress to justify his continued operations. At that point, Democrats will increasingly realize that a cut-and-run from Iraq altogether is nothing more than a fantasy, and may be willing to give Petraeus another few months to see what he can do.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments (12)

Posted by unclesmrgol | May 29, 2007 10:10 AM

Shame on those Iraqis who boycotted the last election and now complain using the gun that they aren't properly represented! But late enlightenment is better than no enlightenment at all. If representative elections will gut the insurgency in those areas, we need to assure that those elections go forward.

They voted once, they can vote again.

[Of course, the LA Times is not the go-to newspaper any more. They are slowly folding up -- like wet newsprint. Even the comics are a shadow; Mallard Fillmore has flown away.]

Posted by Dan | May 29, 2007 12:06 PM

As long as the United States' "surge" continues to work against increased security in Iraq, it's tough to see how any political goals could but recede toward a murky horizon.

Posted by The Mechanical Eye | May 29, 2007 12:07 PM

At that point, Democrats will increasingly realize that a cut-and-run from Iraq altogether is nothing more than a fantasy, and may be willing to give Petraeus another few months to see what he can do.

That might not work this time -- we've been hearing "just give us another few months" for a long time, to the point where the left-blogosphere calls it the "Friedman Unit" ("the next six months in Iraq will be crucial"). Patience isn't just thin -- it's missing.

At some point, all the Victory Caucuses in the world won't be able to salvage the small bit of public support that's left for the war.


Posted by Joe Doe | May 29, 2007 2:23 PM

The "surge" will not miss the really important goal - keeping all parties busy until the president can get the amnesty bill passed. At which point, why would anyone care anymore about ME - except the Regal Dinasty that will need to keep the Saudis happy ever after. Imagine - the Bush Dinasty tree joining the Kennedies. Well, lets not forget the Clintons - next 8 years or so - akthough I wonder what else they can sell after that? Pretty much sold out, already - maybe the debt?

Posted by nandrews3 | May 29, 2007 2:32 PM

The arguments being floated in the LA Times article, and Ed's own take, are perfect examples of the still-blatant dishonesty among what remains of the pro-war advocates. When the surge was first being implemented, its advocates and commanders agreed that the military effort was a necessary condition for the crucial political decisions to be made by the Iraqis themselves. Obviously we couldn't cover the entire country with our counterinsurgency tactics. But we could create some space and buy some time for the government to build national unity.

That was the bait. Now, the switch: As Ed puts it, there won't be any political progress -- but hey, no problem: "The political situation may not be terribly relevant." Instead there may be working agreements with leaders at tribal, local, and provincial levels, and various statistics about military activity to point to -- and, what do you know, that's what we really needed all along, in order to justify keeping the effort in place.

Petraeus and his commanders are presumably being realistic about what they can hope to demonstrate within a matter of months. Apparently they've finally, belatedly given up on the fantasy that Maliki's government is ever going to pursue the American political agenda for Iraq. But instead of facing the actual implications of that, they may be willing to conclude, ever so conveniently, that it doesn't really matter after all, because we're able to show actual progress in selected cities and neighborhoods. Back in January they acknowledged that we couldn't realistically win the war this way. Now at least some of them want to suggest that we can.

This won't fly. For one thing, even our current successes are creating one more unsustainable situation. In the absence of a legitimate central government, the alliances of convenience we're making with the Sunni tribal sheikhs will never serve the purpose of settling the sectarian conflict at the national level. Either we stay there forever, as the only available partner to the alliances, or we get out of the way and let them fight it out with the Shiites in the regions that they share. We're not going to stay there forever. Right now it's great that we're able to kill off some Al Qaeda forces, but aside from that, we're merely postponing the inevitable escalation.

More fundamentally, it won't fly because the American public has heard basically the same song and dance many times now, and the tune and the steps have become all too familiar. When you can't perform the tasks you said were necessary, but insist that those things you actually could do are the ones that really mattered after all -- well, it's been four years of this now. The Republican leaders did well to keep their members on board with the President in the funding fight just concluded. They won't be doing it again, come September, if this is the best case that can be offered.

What remains to be seen is if the Republicans end up dividing into factions over this, or if they can somehow manage to chart a new course on the war, and force the President to respond at last, without losing more than a handful of members. I suspect that's what's going to preoccupy the water carriers in the coming months. Ed has offered a fair impression of a last-ditch true believer over the past months and years, but as the party shifts, something tells me he'll start singing a different tune as well.

Posted by Pam | May 29, 2007 8:48 PM

Good Post, Captain! I pray you're right in your assessment!

Posted by Terry Gain | May 29, 2007 9:51 PM

"Anbar and Diyala have active insurgencies"

Diyala certainly but how many people on the right side of this struggle have been killed in Anbar in the last month?

Posted by Terry Gain | May 29, 2007 9:58 PM

JD Johannes reports on the quickly shifting facts on the ground in Anbar.

Posted by Adjoran | May 30, 2007 12:10 AM

Petraeus certainly has to demonstrate some significant progress by September, but that need not include final success on all fronts. A better security situation in Baghdad and one or two provinces tamed, in conjunction with some evidence of progress from the Iraqi government, could do the trick.

The more he can achieve, the harder it will be for Democrats to repeat the charades of this spring as kabuki theatre for their moonbat left base.

Given the drastic moving forward of the primary schedule for 2008, whatever they do in September will greatly impact the race. Will the Democratic Senators running for President convince Reid and Pelosi that a cut-off of funds for the troops would hurt their national security image? Or will they play to the base and insist on immediate withdrawal?

These are difficult political questions - I omit the question of whether such a policy would be good for American interests, since that is never a consideration beyond sound-bite rhetoric in the Democratic Party of today.

Posted by jdonald | May 30, 2007 12:45 PM

As someone who believed in the necessity of this war I hate to say it but I kind of agree with nandrews3. You can't keep changing your story forever because you failed to follow through on accomplishing your goals.

Either getting the oil law and the de-ba'athification law passed is important or it isn't. In terms of elections, either holding them is important or it isn't and if it is then if 1-2-3 provinces are not stable hold them in the ones that are.

It's the White House that has said these things ARE important. So they need to make them happen one way or another or they need to acknowledge they can't get the Iraqi's to cooperate. At that point I (and I voted for Bush twice and am a hard-core conservative) and others like me will also demand we quit playing games with our military's lives.

I'm not a military expert but we may need to consider changing our role in Iraq significantly to be more advisory and less "involved" if we can't get the government of Iraq to get moving. The Iraqi people elected these folks after all. If the end result is some managed violence as we quit being the buffers between some of the warring factions then at some point the Iraqi's themselves need to step up and avert that. Perhaps they will need to go to the abyss (or beyond) to get religion (pun intended).

The US did not sign up to be the primary security force in Iraq forever. Those of us that support the administration didn't vote for creating Iraq as the 51st state. Even loyalists like me have a limit to our patience when it's US folks blood that's being spilled. Redefining success is not going to work this time.

Posted by Brian H | May 31, 2007 3:56 AM

I'm gonna pick on you because you typify a breed. What's with this "forever" BS? Even if it were to go 10-20 years that's not too much for the stakes. Don't you get what's going on here? A brutalized country is coming into the 21st century in one, hard, 10-year leap across 40 years of missed development, with 7th century fanatics with 20th century weapons doing their damnedest (literally) to stop it.

And that's just the start. A grossly unstable and abusive regional network of tyrannies and populations addicted to and degraded by the Devil's Excrement (oil) is being shaken up and challenged to grow up ... its only hope of survival. The ME is so far behind the curve of civilization and technology now that even in the best of circumstances it will take a couple of generations even to approach the ability to contribute. And by then things will be as different from current conditions and arrangements as we are from 1910.

The US' "unilateral intervention" is the ME's last, best hope, and is an effort of almost unparalleled generosity.

Posted by TyCaptains | May 31, 2007 4:25 PM

Wow, first time I've seen a post relying on The Whiteman's Burden here! YIKES!