Beneath the Surface of the Surge

Thanks to Kevin Drum, I doubled back and caught the rest of this post by Intel Dump’s Phil Carter the second time around. (I missed it the first time due to the WaPo’s “Read more” function, which seems to be the new space-saving, content-masking trend in blogs.) By admitting to putting a veneer of victory on what amounted to a disastrous situation on the ground in Iraq throughout 2006, President Bush is basically confirming what Michael Feaver revealed in his Commentary article earlier this month. Namely, that the administration’s internal discussions bore no resemblance to its public declarations. Of course, that’s pretty much par for the course for this administration on the War; calling it a credibility gap doesn’t quite do it justice.

In all fairness, though, there’s more here than meets the eye, because it’s becoming increasingly clear that the sea change in Anbar province that culminated in the Awakening actually began to take shape during the time period in question. Which is to say, the seeds of improvement were germinating concurrently with the descent into sectarian violence that Carter describes, and independently of any broader tactical shift on our part. That’s important to keep in mind, both for war critics (like myself), and war supporters.

One thing I couldn’t help but think during last week’s Petraeus hearings was how damaging some of the triumphalist remarks made by John McCain — remarks that far exceeded either Gen. Petraeus’ or Amb. Crocker’s optimism — could turn out to be come November should the security situation in Iraq reverse. At the same time, I recognize that the cautionary arguments of war critics, too, might turn out to be wrong, although I believe that they are more strongly supported by the available evidence.

But both sides of this debate should be less wedded to certainty, and more open to the possibility that a great deal of the outcome in Iraq lies outside of our ability to plan, to engineer or even to accurately describe. That might not be particularly reassuring to the strategists responsible for plotting our way forward, and it certainly isn’t easy to sell to the American people. But that’s all the more reason for setting the bar high, far higher than it was set for Iraq, before committing our country to war.

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