Friday, May 15, 2009

If Bush Deserves Credit for the Surge, Then He Deserves Blame for Delaying the Sunni Awakening

By now you've seen this by David Rose at Vanity Fair:

The so-called Sunni Awakening, in which American forces formed tactical alliances with local sheikhs, has been credited with dampening the insurgency in much of Iraq. But new evidence suggests that the Sunnis were offering the same deal as early as 2004—one that was eagerly embraced by commanders on the ground, but rejected out of hand at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

Suppose here that this is true.

Now, I've expressed some skepticism in the past about whether Bush deserves much credit for the Surge, largely because he was basically blindly committed to war and escalation from the beginning. The stopped clock might be right twice a day, but this is not evidence of its accuracy, and it doesn't get any credit for it.

More to the point at hand, we now seem to be in a position to say:

(A) If Bush gets credit for the Surge, then he gets blame for delaying the Sunni Awakening.


(B) The decision to delay the Sunni Awakening was more consequential than the decision to implement the Surge

((B) seems true in part because the decision to delay cost many more lives (coalition and Iraqi) than the Surge saved, and in part because, if not for the earlier bad decision, the later good decision would not have been required.)

So, on balance, our assessment of Bush's conduct of the war must still be decidedly negative.

I've said before that the mode of reasoning that most characterizes the Bush era might be cherry picking, and that's the mode that's generally in play when conservatives crow about the Surge. The fact that Bush misled us into war is not mentioned; nor is the fact that he sent too few troops; nor that he had no post-war plan; nor that de-Baathification led to disaster; nor that there were no WMDs nor al Qaeda links...but, hey, he got the Surge right!

Delaying the formation of tactical alliances with Sunni Sheiks--and thereby delaying the Sunni Awakening--however, seems in a way more interesting, because it is more directly analogous to implementing the Surge--it's a fairly low-level, fairly straight-forward strategic decision made after things had already gone bad. Consequently, there's little room to argue that it shouldn't be weighed against the Surge.

Finally: though I assert above that if Bush gets credit for the Surge, he gets blame for delaying the Awakening, the converse may not be true. That is, he may be due for the Awakening blame but no Surge credit. The argument here would be of the stopped clock variety--if Bush was (as he seems to have been) a stopped clock, then he seemingly deserves blame for all of the bad decisions that result from that flawed disposition, but no credit from any of the (accidentally) good ones. And that's just because we don't get credit for things we do accidentally.


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