Thursday, August 09, 2007

What Conditions Must the Surge Meet in Order to Count as Working?

First pass:

The standard line one hears is (roughly) that the surge was intended to give the Iraqi government the breathing room necessary in order to achieve some political successes.

There's at least some reason to believe that the surge is achieving some military successes.

But the Iraqi government is not taking advantage of them, largely because it's largely on vacation.

So question: is the surge working?

The right, of course, says 'yes' (largely because they say that everything has worked in Iraq--we've been winning the whole time!).

The left, almost as predictably these days, says 'no.'

So (if the assertions above are true), who's right?

Well, if the point of the surge was to make breathing room in order to make political progress possible, then it seems that, technically, the surge has worked even if the political progress in question does not take place. Its goal, after all, was to make such progress possible--not to actually achieve the progress. You can't do that militarily. You can only make political progress...well, politically.

Now, of course it's all for naught without the political we can't really take much solace in a technical victory. In this case, a technical victory is, well, a loss.

But, anyway, to make things messier and more contentious, both the right and the left can, it seems, claim to be right about this one--it's reasonable to say that the surge is working, but also reasonable to say that it isn't.

But--again, assuming that reports of military progress are true--I think the right is significantly righter than the left on this one.

As I've said before, I'm afraid that after five years of dealing with the right's dogmatic propaganda on Iraq, liberals are starting to get a bit too dogmatic themselves. IF we really are making military progress, I'd like to see liberals freely admit that.

However, given the dogmatism of the pro-war crowd, making such an admission might be a mistake, I suppose...


Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I've been struggling with the current truism, that the only solution to Iraq is political, not military. Even St. David Patraeus has been known to mouth that one. No justice, no peace, it's been formulated in another context.

But by "military" we really mean "security." There is no security solution?

Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither, said Ben Franklin. But is that really true outside the United States? (Or even here---what with the eavesdropping measures, or say, over in the UK, where what the ACLU considers egregious abrogations of civil rights are routine.)

Folks are fully willing to sacrifice freedom for security all over the world. It's why there are so many dictators still in power, and dictators are the rule not the exception throughout the Arab world.

I'm just asking here---because I'm wisely advised that I should favor interrogatives over assertions---what if Iraq were reasonably secure? What would happen to the "no justice, no peace" crowd in Iraq except fratricide? (Cousin-icide?)

The prophet Sting advises us that there is no political solution to our troubled evolution. I'm not a disciple, but I think he was onto something there. What I can glean from the confusing reports from over there is that Iraqi society is moving ahead of its government, as successful societies always must.

1:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not know of any evidence that the current surge is working.

I am serious about this, July deaths of U.S. soldiers, while down from earlier months, are still the highest of any July since the war began.

I'm not being a dick here, I just want to know what evidence we have that the surge is working. I don't see any, I see opinions of dubious pundits claiming this is true, but I see no numbers bearing this out.

We are spending more and losing more lives now than we were years ago, and more Iraqis are being killed by each other or by us than years ago.

Please point me towards evidence (even if included in an opinion piece) that the surge is working.

I mean this in a military sense, by the way, not politically, as the politics in Iraq is unsolvable from my point of view, and while I think TVD is on to something, I just don't, really don't see a military OR political solution to this nightmare.

There is nothing to be done other than leave, as far as I can tell. Sometimes things don't work out, and the sooner you recognize this reality, the less worse it gets. Depressing, yes, but also true.

2:40 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


Well, it seems clear that we are aiming at security here, not immediate liberal democracy. 'Success' in my book will be a semi-stable country with a fairly low number of murders. And, I suppose I should add, no dictator and no theocracy. Though those last two are mere desiderata at this point.

So security's all I'm asking for at this point.

And I'll be the Iraqis agree. I read an Arabic proverb once, goes roughly like: better a hundred years of tyranny than one day of anarchy.

We're trying to go from total disaster to mere world-class f*ck-up. I don't see that we can afford to be too picky...

So I say the surge is a success if it improves security.

8:50 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

...but WE have a theocracy and a dictator.


10:06 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

The Washington Post is still on the epistemological approved list, I believe.

2:21 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

So, as evidence for the surge working, Tom presented the Washington Post, which reported that some Sunni groups have decided to quit fighting the US troops and turn their attention on Al Qaeda and others like them.

However, the article said "U.S. soldiers and commanders voiced wariness over the intentions of the former insurgents. 'Some of them want to be reintegrated back in society, they want to push al-Qaeda out. Others want to be the next thug group that goes around and demands electricity payments. We're watching them closely,' said Capt. Mike Edwards, an intelligence officer with the 3rd Brigade."

Furthermore, another US soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Eric Beck said he is uneasy about cooperating with former insurgents, calling them "the best of two evils."

"'I think they want control of the area,' said Beck, of San Bernardino, Calif., whose platoon has spent the past year combating insurgents and Shiite militias in and around Baghdad. 'How will the Iraqi army deal with them once we leave? Will they be able to control them like we are?' he asked. 'They are good for a quick fix, but in the end, it could backfire.'"


These are Sunni insurgents. They have no hope of attaining any power in the Shiite dominated government unless they work with the Americans - this is classic "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." They also understand that the Sunni extremists (Al Qaeda and the like) will get nowhere in establishing a government, and they most likely don't agree with them theologically anyway. Quotes from some of these groups ALSO featured in that article show that it's not like they're interested in allying with the US for any other reason than to gain some traction and eventually push out the Shiites:

"We have no people in government now, so we are trying to do as much as we can to tell people to join the army and police," (the army and police, again, are dominated by Shiites nearly entirely, as he says) Abu Lwat said. "That way, they can control the area and government, and American forces can go back to their country." - Abu Lwat, Sunni (former) insurgent

Now at first, you'd think, "Aw, he wants to help us get our troops home"..but if you know the situation - that is, that he's a Sunni who needs to do what he can to gain power and influence in a Shiite-dominated world, then you see why. Further testament to this exists in the article:

"Abu Lwat said he seeks a new government in Iraq. "We don't want to be like the people who sit in the Green Zone and take orders from Bush," [the Shiites are the ones in the Green Zone] he said, referring to the American president. "We want to free people and fix their problems."

They want to do this because they want the power. This is not indicative that the surge is working - this is indicative that the Sunni minority, who does not approve of the US whatsoever (I mean, damn, they were just killing us a little while ago..), is simply using it to help them oust the vast Shiite majority because, without us, they'd have no other chance. He's already expressed the common sentiment that once he's done ousting the US, he intends to establish a "new government" - he's not fighting with us, for the current government that the US supports. He, and others like him, want their own, away from us, and the only goal now is to use us to assist them get rid of the Al-Qaeda-esque insurgency, gain power and respect to help inject themselves into the current Shiite-dominated government, and then eventually overthrow it and replace it with a Sunni government.

That is what's going on. It's not that the surge is working. Did you even read the article, Tom? That soldier they interviewed laid it out pretty clearly - they're a good quick fix, but once the US is gone, they're going to go back to fighting with the Shiite-dominated government. They know this, and they're using this time to infiltrate it as best they can - maybe even get support in weaponry and such from the US while they fight Al-Qaeda with us, only to use it against the extant government when we leave.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Fighting al-Qaeda is cool. One miracle at a time. A tipping point has occured, where the Sunni sheiks have concluded allying with al-Qaeda's enemy (us) is in their best interest, because they now judge al-Qaeda will not win.

Yes, the article says the Sunnis may be plotting to overthrow the government, but they also might be plotting to join it, and a bigger wind behind their sails would make the Shi'a more pliable.

We shall see.

5:47 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

That's a pretty weak "may", man. Again, you're down to "Well maybe event x will occur", where event x is a highly improbable event (historically speaking, the Sunnis haven't exactly been cool with being the minority in a Shiite dominated government, and the same goes for vice versa).

5:51 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Let the delegitimization process continue. Soon there will be no one left except President Kucinich and Speaker Sheehan.

WASHINGTON (AP) - One senator said U.S. troops are routing out al-Qaida in parts of Iraq. Another insisted President Bush's plan to increase troops has caused tactical momentum.

One even went so far on Wednesday as to say the argument could be made that U.S. troops are winning.

These are not Bush-backing GOP die-hards, but Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin, Bob Casey and Jack Reed. Even Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, said progress was being made by soldiers.

The suggestions by them and other Democrats in recent days that at least a portion of Bush's strategy in Iraq is working is somewhat surprising, considering the bitter exchanges on Capitol Hill between the Democratic majority and Republicans and Bush. Democrats have long said Bush's policies have been nothing more than a complete failure.

5:51 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Not to mention that NONE of this proves the surge is working - there's no way to say the Sunnis have decided to join the fight against Al-Qaeda due in any way to the surge.

5:52 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Well if those senators are correct, somehow, that'd be nice, wouldn't it?

Again, this is all pretty lame evidence. You've got two senators saying there's now "tactical momentum" and one senator venturing to say that the argument that US troops are winning has moved from the "impossible" classification to the "kind of possible" classifcation.

You also cited an article saying that some Sunni insurgents are now helping us fight Al-Qaeda, which is in no way verifiably tied to any of Bush's policies, but is rather more likely a function of local regional politics and time.

It's not like we don't want the region to be stabilized. We do fear the fact that righties will jeer about how Bush was right all along because we managed to squeak out stability after years and hundreds of billions spent in excess of the estimate (and despite all the lies, mismanagement, etc. etc.). However, the region's stability is the right thing to want, and despite the fact that it will probably grant unwarranted credibility to Bush and the pubbies, we do want to see it happen.

But your evidence currently is lame. 2 senators saying good things are happening and 1 senator saying it's now merely possible to say we might be winning combined with an event that is in no way demonstrably tied to Bush's policies is not enough to convince anyone that anything's going well over there, even if things are, in fact, going well. It's ESPECIALLY not enough to convince someone that things are going well due to Bush's (and/or his administration's) policies.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Joe the Blogger said...

I'm taking it as given that the military side of the surge is making progress. But I don't agree that a military success is sufficient for saying the surge is working. Here is Bush in his January 07 speech, after acknowledging that violence will not completely subside with the surge:

"Yet over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas. Most of Iraq's Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace -- and reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible."

But he also said:

"I've made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act."

The surge was not merely intended to make reconciliation possible, but to make it more likely. The reasoning seems to be that if the violence reduces, Iraqis will have more confidence in the government, and the politicians will then be able to reconcile their differences. But here even Bush says that if the Iraqi leadership does not make the tough decisions, it's not going to work.

So if the military has successfully reduced violence, it is clear that national reconciliation is not any more likely because of it. It is questionable whether national reconcilation has ever been possible, but if it is not, there can't be success in Iraq, no matter how we define success. I think that should be clear to all people on this issue. So with all the military success, we haven't seen any evidence that it's leading to what it was meant to lead to. Obviously enhancing the security of the Iraqis somewhat is worthwhile in itself. But it's not leading to the solution that even Bush recognized in his speech is needed for Iraq to be stable.

But otherwise, I agree that the argument the left is making is a bad one. Just because Bush has been wrong and dishonest many times before is not a sufficient reason for ignoring his argument now when there seems to be some evidence that might support it. We should be very skeptical though.

I think it's a very tough call as to whether to give this more time. I'm leaning toward giving it until January of '08 and then having a vote if the Iraqi leaders haven't capitalized on the military progress.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Joe the Blogger said...

Oh, and by "having a vote" I mean I'd support the Congress voting to immediately reduce the size of the military commitment to Iraq if Iraq's politicians are still stalling in January '08. If we do not draw a line in the sand at some point, we will just be there indefinitely holding Iraqi society together artificially. I think at some point, we have to just say enough is enough. Deciding when is tough, but I think making a decision in September may be too early. By January, I think we should have much greater confidence where things are going.

6:59 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Well, to make things clear, I wasn't saying that the surge wasn't working - I was saying that what Tom provided didn't show that any aspect of the surge was working - it provided very weak evidence for the conclusion that the surge is having military success, but that's it.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Joe the Blogger said...

I think a sign that the surge is working would have to involve some political progress that coincided with any military progress we might be making. But without that, I don't think the sure is working.

We thought A would make B more likely. Supposing we are getting to A, success would mean we would be progressing toward B as a result of A. But aren't progressing toward B...indeed, the way Malaki's government seems to be falling apart, and so we have the opposite of political progress since the surge started.

I think the question we should be asking is: what kinds of signs should we be looking for in the political realm as signs of political progress or deterioration. Maliki's government struggling to survive is a bad, bad sign. Still, I think that September is probably too early to just pull the plug.

If the reports about military progress are true, over the next 2-4 months the politicians have the space we intended to give them. If they can't get past their differences during that time on some key tests, we will then have very good reason to believe that no matter how hard we try, we broke it and we just can't put this back together again. I am already almost fed up with trying to force Iraq to be stable if it just can't be, but I am willing to give this a few more months just to be sure. Because the Republicans are right that the risks of drawing down are huge.

Maybe we should start seriously considering Biden's plan for a three-state solution. That may be where things are heading if we are not inexorably moving toward regional war already.

7:41 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Mystic, you're arguing against a link or two I stick in a comments section of a blog. We're getting into turnip truck territory here, as if I could post one link by a source you find epistemologically acceptable, that runs from soup-to-nuts to present an irrefutable truth.

No such thing exists, even among the historians, who have access to every bit of information that's retrievable. Iraq, and human events, will never have certainty. There's a whole world out there, and if you want to counterargue, bring something more than mere skepticism or Glenn Greenwald. I mean, I enjoy your company (when you're not insulting me), but this isn't deep enough, it's just the usual internet nonsense.

(I'm not a bad sophist myself, as you acknowledge [or accuse]. I assure you I could tear apart any proposition or source you could put up, asould you ever choose to switch to making affirmative arguments instead of trying to negate mine. But links are mostly useful as support, not proof, as should be regarded as such.)
Jared, your view allows for a lot of uncertainty, which I think is good. I dunno if the American polity will give the situation until January '08 to leave more divinable tea leaves, altho the generals are certainly making those noises.

A>B has been the conventional wisdom, that political agreement will result in stability. Or maybe it's A>B>A+, that stability will result in political progress will result in greater stability. I'm not sure the Arab world (or human society at its most naked, as Iraq's is) works that way, as previously noted. Politics, as we in the West have grown to understand it, is not what politics is when practiced at the tribal/sectarian level.

Maybe A is simply A, and B is only a corollary. If people want peace, they tend to get peace, even if you tend to have to kill most of those who don't want peace first. Politics might simply be writing up the details.

I ran across a contemporary Muslim philosopher (in short supply since al-Ghazali---look him up) who said that the West are the children of Rousseau, but the Islamic world is Hobbesian. (Life is nasty, brutish and short, and one simply does what one must do to survive.) Jihadism certainly stands in opposition to that, and indeed supplies an acceptable answer to Hobbes' insufficiency for the human spirit.

But, if the Taliban hadn't been enough proof, the barbarity and outright obscenity of bin Ladenism as exhibited in Iraq has turned all but the most self-annihilating of Muslims against this latest centennial round of Islamic eschatology.

So, what remains is Hobbes, and as bin Laden himself noted, people go with the strongest-looking horse, the likely winner.

We are continually told that we must keep our eye on the real ball, the real villain, the real threat, Osama bin Laden. I submit that his real defeat has been not in forcing him physically into a cave somewhere over the Pakistan border (or killing him), but in Iraq, where his ideology has been shown for what it is, and it appears to be finding increasing rejection.

Whether that's because it offends Rousseau in aesthetics, or whether the strong horse of our military is enforcing Hobbes, I don't care. Probably a lot of both.

9-11 was designed as a clarion call for global jihad, the re-establishment of the caliphate, blahblahblah. I think Europe---from within---has more to worry about from jihadism than the Muslim world itself.

Oh yeah, there still is Iran. Dang.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, my thoughts on this, FWTW:

1. There's at least some reason to believe that the surge is working. The fact that Durbin et. al. thinks so is really encouraging. This isn't just the Bush cheer-leading squad chanting their "we are winning" mantra. These are folks we should listen to.

The Mystic's right about lots of the Post points, tho, I'm afraid.

Still: some reason for hope, finally.

2. This mostly directed at Jared:
I still think that "the surge is working" is ambiguous, in the way identified in the Post. Is the surge working: well, maybe in one sense, but apparently not in the other.

The surge aims at a military goal, and the achievement of that military goal is supposed to make it possible for someone else to achieve a political goal. Evidence suggests that the surge MAY be working to achieve the military goal...but that only serves to open space (i.e. make it possible) for the Iraqi government (now on vacation...) to do the political thing, the more important thing.

10:33 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

"Mystic, you're arguing against a link or two I stick in a comments section of a blog. We're getting into turnip truck territory here,"

So.. you're saying that it's stupid of me to point out that your link doesn't support what you claim it supports. That's so wild, you MUST have a good reason for saying it. Let's find out:

"as if I could post one link by a source you find epistemologically acceptable"

Well, this definitely isn't a good reason. I didn't say anything about your link being "epistemologically acceptable". This whole little aspect of your posts lately has really gotten on my nerves. You keep saying that like we just randomly say "I don't trust this source" and "I trust this source" for no good reason - as though we've created arbitrary lists of good and bad sources. That is clearly not the case, so stop pretending it is. Furthermore, I never questioned the credibility of your source. I pointed out that it just flat-out didn't say what you seemed to be indicating that it said. So, not only is this part of your post resting on the incorrect presumption that we arbitrarily deny credibility to certain sources, but it's also a red herring.

So that's not a good reason, maybe there's a good reason later in the post:

"that runs from soup-to-nuts to present an irrefutable truth."

Here comes the hyperbole again! I'm not asking you to present one link that solidly gives an argument that "because of x, the surge is working". You're free to use credible sources as components with which you may construct your own argument that the surge is working - which is what you seemed to be attempting, and I was pointing out that your source did not support your argument as you alleged it did.

Also, no one's asking for an "irrefutable truth". All I was saying is that what YOU said was very, very weak evidence for the alleged fact that the surge is working.

So, no good reasons yet.. Moving on:

"No such thing exists, even among the historians, who have access to every bit of information that's retrievable. Iraq, and human events, will never have certainty."

Again, not demanding certainty. You do like to exaggerate.

"There's a whole world out there, and if you want to counterargue, bring something more than mere skepticism or Glenn Greenwald."

Interestingly, I never cited Glenn Greenwald. Also, skepticism was one of the main points of this thread - should we maintain skepticism of the alleged fact that the surge is working, or is there good evidence to believe that it is? You seemed to indicate that we should believe it's working and then pointed us to the Washington Post article. I showed that the article doesn't support your assertion at all - it was entirely irrelevant to whether or not the surge was working.

So, what the hell? That's not irrational skepticism - pointing out that you are supporting your argument with a citation that doesn't even say what you allege it says is very necessary.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Joe the Blogger said...

I agree Winston that it depends on what we mean by "the surge." If it's just a military strategy to reduce violence and give the Iraqi leaders some more time to reconcile, then I think the surge is indeed making progress because there are many reports of reduced sectarian violence and Iraqis turning against al Qaeda. But if we define the surge as containing two components--military progress making it more likely that Iraqi politicians will solve some key political problems, it's not working. I was arguing that based on Bush's speech in January, we should understand the surge in the second way. But it seems that the surge has to serve that political purpose to be successful, anyway, since the goal is Iraq being stable over the long term and self-governing. Our goal should not simply be to temporarily reduce the violence and merely give the Iraqis space to solve their political problems. If they don't reconcile, we're screwed because without a solution there, then I don't see how there can be long-term stability.

In other words, if we say the surge worked but the Iraqis failed to take advantage of it, then what we're still left with is failure: a strategy that failed to bring about the stability that it was intended to bring about.

3:53 PM  
Blogger lovable liberal said...

In today's media environment, anything positive that a liberal says about the escalation will become Bushist propaganda instantly and permanently. On account of this, anti-war liberals should not take the Lieberman path.

But that's a different question from the original one: is the surge working?

Since they're politicians, the Bushists did not set any specific criteria for success. That's too risky; better to have latitude after the fact to argue the escalation was a success. I hope they had eyes-only objective criteria written down somewhere in advance but with this bunch of losers, I doubt it.

What hopes did Americans have when the escalation began? I see the goals similarly to you, WS - improve security to gain two things:
- a greater sense of safety and relief for those Iraqis on all sides who are tired of violence - that way, they might stop supporting or acquiescing to their faction's killers
- a chance for the Iraqi political authorities to reach compromise and institute effective civil government

The first is primary since it's the mechanism to bring about the second. The proof of success of the escalation would be a lasting effect on the level of violence in Iraq - fewer dead, fewer bombings, etc. It wouldn't hurt if the infrastructure improved at least to Saddam-provided levels.

Has violence diminished? Early in the escalation, the answer was unequivocally 'no'. More Americans were dying; no fewer Iraqis were dying. Now, I don't know.

If the trend in violence is clearly not better, the escalation failed. If it is better, the escalation still has some hope of success.

Normally, I would say that judging this is complicated by the fact that the U.S. military won't try to keep civilian casualty statistics. But since nothing coming out of the executive branch is credible in the Bush Administration, at least without outside confirmation, we'll just have to rely on the information of others.

For now, that information is equivocal. Most of the positive news emphasizes a lower death toll month-to-month, often following a bad month. Really, I'd need to see a clear trend to reach even a tentative conclusion.

If by some miracle the escalation has actually worked, we won't actually know until it is over. Mere suppression by superior force of the civil war engulfing Iraq is not enough achieve lasting civil order.

We're not going to get that sort of clear indication, I'm afraid. Instead, we'll get mushy, cherry-picked statistics and sweet, too-good-to-be-true anecdotes such as the one the Washington Post published Thursday.

Politically, liberals should say things like, "There would be more hope if the Bush Administration had pushed the Iraqis to get off their duffs and achieve some, any political progress. That would make use of the sacrifices of our troops."

4:03 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

I think, to sort of inject my own proposed rule in an earlier comment thread that we summarize what's been concluded thus far in order to keep some progress in the thread rather than begin to produce repetitive/unproductive comments, that this is what we've come up with so far:

If the surge is to work, it must work on two separate dimensions:

Military: The goal of the increase in troop presence is to create a more stable, secure environment in Iraq.

Political: The more stable and secure environment shall then be taken advantage of by the Iraqi government in order to make much needed progress in order to create a sustainable, self-sufficient governmental presence in Iraq.

So far, most people in the comment thread have taken it as a given that the surge has worked militarily to at least some degree. However, it seems to be the consensus that the Iraq government is not taking advantage of the increased stabliity (in fact, they are on vacation).

So, it can be concluded, it seems, that thus far, the surge has failed to work. However, the military progress is at least some indication that the surge may yet work.

It seems to me that if there is indeed sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that the military presence is creating a sufficiently stable and secure environment for political progress to be made, then we will have to wait until the Iraqi government reconvenes at the end of their rather untimely vacation in order to see if any progress can be made.

A couple questions come to mind regarding the future of this surge:

1) Is the lack of a secure and stable environment really what's holding the Iraqi government back from progress, or is it an array of extremely difficult political roadblocks stemming from political and theological differences between the Iraqis?

2) How long can the surge's increase in security be sustained in order to protect the government?

3) How much time can we estimate the government will need in order to make sufficient progress?

4) Given the answers from 2 and 3, is it even feasible to provide the Iraqis with what they need?

I'm not sure if these questions are answerable, but they're the ones I'm wondering about, at least.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Wow. Interesting discussion.

I see your point about the two-pronged criterion of success, Jared.

Nice summary, Mystic.

6:51 PM  
Blogger Joe the Blogger said...

Mystic, you said: "So, it can be concluded, it seems, that thus far, the surge has failed to work. However, the military progress is at least some indication that the surge may yet work."

I think that's exactly right and a nice way to put it concisely. The far left seems to be assuming that the surge CAN'T work, as if it were knowable a priori, whereas the far right seems to assume that regardless of what happens, it is a priori knowable that we must stay in Iraq indefinitely.

Winston, I think you're making an important point even if we're seeing the point of teh surge somewhat differently. It does seem like overall things are improving compared to 2006 if it's true that security has improved. I mean, last year there was political deadlock AND a horrible increase in sectarian fighting. There may be some promise finally.

One thing that I worry about, though, is that moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans will fail to push for a drawdown if it does become apparent within a few months that the surge is not going to push Iraq's leaders to the compromise they need to make. I think there is a fear--an understandable fear--that Dems and moderate Republicans will be charged with pulling the rug from under the effort just as we were starting to make progress. If this isn't going to work, Dems and moderate Republicans need to be brave and stand up to what will be a stinging charge, I'm sure, which is that they are responsible for the failure in Iraq by forcing it to end. Hopefully they'll do the right thing if the surge just doesn't work out....

Another worry I have is the one expressed by Mystic in your attack on Tom's justification that the surge is working militarily. We do need to remember that the administration is going to try as hard as it can during this period leading up to the September report to make the public believe that there is military progress. I mean, they can't spin the failure of Iraqi politics, but they can easily spin the military progress because the data is so murky. The situation is reminiscent of the lead-up to the Iraq war...It's not inevitable that Bush will be lying and relying on false evidence this time, but we should remember who we're dealing with, so I do appreciate the effort to be critical of reports of military progress.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I think it's important to realize that liberals will be blamed for pulling the rug out NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS...unless we somehow quasi-win, in which case Bush will be a hero.

This realization is freeing in a way: it should relieve liberals from any political pressure they feel, and get them to just try to do the right thing, whatever that might be.

8:55 PM  
Blogger lovable liberal said...

Contemplating the same question, TomDispatch gives this downer of a statistical assessment. Of course, Tom Engelhardt is not on the right wing's epistemological approved list.

I haven't had a chance to push on any of the numbers there, but I do have to agree with this acknowledgement of the epistemic difficulties of the question, as Tom E. states: Few numbers out of Iraq can be trusted. Counting accurately amid widespread disruption, mayhem, and bloodshed, under a failing occupation, in a land essentially lacking a central government, in a U.S. media landscape still dizzy from the endless spin of the Bush administration and its military commanders is probably next to impossible.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

9:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...


Baird sees need for longer U.S. role in Iraq

U.S. Rep. Brian Baird said Thursday that his recent trip to Iraq convinced him the military needs more time in the region, and that a hasty pullout would cause chaos that helps Iran and harms U.S. security.

"I believe that the decision to invade Iraq and the post-invasion management of that country were among the largest foreign-policy mistakes in the history of our nation. I voted against them, and I still think they were the right votes," Baird said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.

"But we're on the ground now. We have a responsibility to the Iraqi people and a strategic interest in making this work."

Baird, a five-term Democrat, voted against President Bush ordering the Iraq invasion — at a time when he was in a minority in Congress and at risk of alienating voters. He returned late Tuesday from a trip that included stops in Israel, Jordan and Iraq, where he met troops, U.S. advisers and Iraqis, whose stories have convinced him that U.S. troops must stay longer.

5:38 PM  
Blogger lovable liberal said...

TVD, the Michael Totten link was interesting.

Here's another perspective - with some overlap.

Glib comments on the latter at my new home.

11:48 AM  

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