Friday, April 03, 2009

Caution On The Surge

It has been nearly two years now that political correctness has demanded that all bow to the success of The Surge in Iraq. The mainstream media, Republican (and most Democratic) politicians, and most military analysts have readily complied.

Someone forgot to tell Thomas Ricks, who covered the United States military for The Washington Post until recently and has written extensively, for the paper and otherwise, about Iraq. Here in his blog, Ricks questions the staying power of the Anbar Awakening, the "mainly Sunni group of about 100,000 people, many of them former insurgents, who in late 2006 and 2007 arrived at ceasefires with the U.S. military presence in Iraq." He explains:

The American plan was to integrate about 20,000 members of Awakening groups into Iraqi security forces, and help the rest find other work. Meantime, the Baghdad government was supposed to take over the payments to the groups, which when I last checked totaled about $30 million a month.

But the Shiite-dominated Baghdad government never really liked the idea. Indeed, the first deals were cut by U.S. officials behind the back of the Iraqi government. So Maliki's guys are:

Arresting some leaders of the "Sons of Iraq" (the American term for Awakening forces)
Attacking others
Bringing only 5,000 of the ex-insurgents into the Iraqi security forces
And stiffing others on pay, with some complaining they haven't been paid in weeks or even months

I think Maliki's gambit is to crack down on the Sunnis while American forces are still available in sufficient numbers to back him up. This is a turning into a test of strength, Sunni vs. Shiite.

There's more. If the Awakening fighting spreads, I wouldn't be surprised to see Moqtada al-Sadr's Shiite militia re-emerge. I've always thought the Sunni Awakening forced him to go to ground, because he didn't want to be the only guy taking on American forces.

Ricks is unsure whether the surge, which has played a role in reducing American casualties but was implemented to achieve not military but strategic objectives, has worked.

It has always struck me as odd that (Senator and President) Barack Obama has been one of the few politicians who appear to understand that Iraq is not an isolated country but part of a region. This recognition is one of the reasons (political strategy being another) that he has consistently emphasized the rather obvious, but largely unstated, central reality of American foreign policy of the last seven-and-a-half years: while we have been fighting a war in Iraq, we have "taken our eye off the ball" in Afghanistan. The latter is not only another nation in the Gulf, but a more important nation than Iraq, at least given the threat posed by Al-Qaeda.

The surge has been a tactical success. Determining, however, whether it will have been a strategic success awaits- at a minimum- the outcome of the war(s) over there.

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