It’s admittedly been a while since I wrote about Iraq, which is a testament to the ways in which that conflict has become a mature stabilization operation. Twenty-three U.S. soldiers dead in August is twenty-three too many. But the security gains since January 2007 are enormous and game-changing.
I was opposed to the Surge when President Bush announced it, I’ve been skeptical of the weight it’s been given as a causal factor of the decline in violence, and I remain unconvinced that it has accomplished its ultimate strategic goal of ensuring that Iraq’s ethnic, sectarian and factional conflicts are resolved through the political process as opposed to armed violence. I also don’t believe President Bush’s decision to send the troops was particularly courageous from a political standpoint, since his only alternative was to admit to having committed the most catastrophic strategic blunder in American history.
That said, the Surge did accomplish two things. By signalling Bush’s unwavering commitment to America’s military engagement, it helped convince the various Iraqi factions that whether or not they ultimately resolve their differences through bloodshed, they’d stand to gain by waiting until after we’re gone to do so.And should the security gains hold until the American drawdown is complete (whenever that is), the Surge will have allowed the American military to withdraw from Iraq with its coercive reputation intact. And that’s indispensable if American power, in both its soft and hard expressions, is to be credible.
Now it’s official, the shift of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan will begin in January 2009. That’s, of course, where the rubber will hit the road in both theaters. I’m on record as being opposed to widening the conflict in Afghanistan, not because the objectives of the Afghan War aren’t desirable. They are. I’m just not sure if they’re achievable.As I pointed out above, I’ve been wrong before. Hopefully I’ll be wrong here, too.