February 26, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Surge: It's not the numbers

Milblogger Austin Bay argues that the real significance behind the U.S. "surge" offensive is not the additional troops per se, but rather, the way they are being deployed. As is well known, our troops are now quartered throughout Baghdad and other cities in Iraq, rather than safely ensconced in isolated fortress garrisons. The goal is to regain the confidence of the Iraqi security forces, and also to keep a closer eye on them, so that they do not come under the sway of extremist leaders like Moqtada al Sadr. (Some think it's too late for that, but I'll wait and see.) Bay points to "the relentless, focused targeting of Shia and Sunni extremist organizations..." as the key to ultimate success. It comes close to a tacit admission that we really are taking on both sides in what could reasonably be called a civil war. (Arguing whether it really is or not is futile, I think.) I don't know if there is any precedent for that in military history. In 1995 U.S./NATO intervention halted a civil war in Bosnia, but there was a clear favoritism toward the Bosnians; likewise for Kosovo in [1999].

In today's Washington Post (no link), Fareed Zakaria derides the offensive operations by saying they would have been appropriate for the 2003-2005 period, but not today. Sarcasm aside, he does aptly call attention to the fundamental dilemma we face: The harder we crack down on the respective sides, the smaller will be the margin for error as each side suspects we are really favoring the other side. In that situation, our best efforts could simply backfire. Zakaria suggests an alternative "surge," focusing on economic regeneration via pragmatic deal-making. He berates the Bush administration for closing down the old state-run industries in Iraq, leaving farmers with no supplies of fertilizer, and thousands of skilled men without jobs. You would think that better administrative planning would have taken care of the transition to a market-oriented economy. Alas...