This looks like a critically important piece just out from Michael Hirsh in Newsweek. The quick summary: the implications of the ‘surge’ policy aren’t at all understood at all in the US political conversation. The ‘surge’ isn’t a ramped up effort to get a hold of the security situation in Iraq so that American troops can come home. The whole policy is based on the assumption that Iraqis can’t police or stabilize Iraq, that the American military will have to do it for them and that we’ll be there for five or more likely ten or more years more before we have any hope of leaving.
Under Petraeusâs plan, a U.S. military force of 160,000 or more is setting up hundreds of âmini-fortsâ all over Baghdad and the rest of the country, right in the middle of the action. The U.S. Army has also stopped pretending that Iraqisâwho have failed to build a credible government, military or police force on their ownâare in the lead when it comes to kicking down doors and keeping the peace. And that means the future of Iraq depends on the long-term presence of U.S. forces in a way it did not just a few months ago.
There’s a really biting irony here, which is that this really is how you run a successful counterinsurgency, albeit with many more troops than we have available or in theater. And, in a modified form, it’s also how you prevent an insurgency from coming into existence or spiraling out of control. I know there’s this often doctrinaire debate about whether the occupation was destined to come to this bleak point or not. But things wouldn’t have been nearly as bad if the White House and the Secretary of Defense hadn’t insisted on the shiftless, lackadaisical and incompetent approach we’ve followed, ignoring the reality of the situation until domestic politics in the US forced their hand.
But what’s done is done.
Set aside whether the Petraeus plan is unlikely to succeed or virtually certain to fail. And set aside — for the sake of clarifying a separate set of issues — how many more US troops would die with this new approach. (With this sort of intensive involvement in securing Iraq, the answer has to be, a lot.) The question that we need to ask is whether it’s worth trying to prevent the Iraqi civil war from running its course given our now depleted resources and how many other vital national interests are now imperiled by our continued presence in the country.
Central to the Republican line on Iraq and much more to the Democratic one than I think is sometimes realized, our whole vision is now governed by Iraq-myopia, the delusion that our national destiny is at stake in Iraq. But it’s not. We’ve done horrible harm to ourselves and the Iraqis. It’s a disaster, a catastrophe. But it’s not everything. It’s actually not even close to everything. And until we really get our collective heads around that fact I doubt we’ll ever get ourselves free of this mess.