Surviving the Surge

I’ve got to agree with Andrew Sullivan on this one. We still don’t know how the final chapter on the Surge will turn out, because we still don’t know how the final chapter on Iraq will turn out. Setting aside the problems of causality (the Anbar Awakening that preceded it, the sectarian cleansing that had been largely accomplished before it, etc.), I acknowledge that the decision to double down and dig in — which struck me as a desperate measure with “last ditch” written all over it — obviously struck some of the actors in Iraq quite differently.

But as much as anything else, the Surge was a classic tactic from the colonial campaign textbook consisting of reinforcing the seat of power of a disputed puppet enough to deter the various opposition factions from violently contesting him. None of the various factions of armed opposition have been defeated, though, and whether or not Nouri Maliki’s evolution from puppet to statesman will survive the withdrawal of American troops will probably remain an unanswerable question until the time American troops actually do withdraw. The same goes for the question of whether or not the Iraqi Security Forces we leave behind will be considered a legitimate national institution, or a private militia.

Maliki happened to be the head of government (read: the right place) when America decided that a strongman restoration was preferable to a failed democracy (read: right time). But the balance of power in Iraq is such that no single faction can actually defeat the others singlehandedly and, for the time being, without the support of both America and Iran. The Surge has pushed this fragile and volatile cocktail down the road a bit, but Brooks and others who argue that it’s time for Surge opponents to admit their error might be declaring “Mission Accomplished” a bit prematurely.