The Surge Outside the Spotlight

The Petraeus and Crocker show moved to the House yesterday, where it continued to get the spotlight. But the real action to my mind was the testimony over at the Senate Armed Services committee, where Andrew Bacevich (here in .pdf) and Robert Malley (here in .pdf) really filled in the blanks on the asessment of the Surge, but more importantly on the strategic context that should inform our discussion of where we go from here.

Malley’s discussion, in particular, of al-Sadr’s ceasefire adds more depth to the simplistic explanation that his decision was taken solely in response to pressure from the Surge. He also argues that not only are the Surge’s tactical successes not sufficient to achieve our goals, but that the “the tasks being performed by US troops are disconnected from a realistic, articulated political strategy vis-à-vis Iraq or the region.”

His three conclusions are noteworthy:

We have least leverage over the Iraqi actors that we support the most: Sunnis, not Shiites, have been most cooperative with our stated objectives.
-Our lack of leverage with Iraqi Shiites results from failure to accept and articulate the possibility of withdrawal. How’s this for a definition of moral hazard: “[The Maliki government] has no logical reason to alienate its core constituency and jeopardize its fragile political makeup when inaction has no consequence and the US will always back it up.”
Stabilizing Iraq while de-stabilizing Iran are mutually exclusive goals, for the simple reason that our allies in Iraq are also Iran’s allies in Iraq.

Malley also pointed out that Iraqi Sunnis decided to side with us because they were isolated. I’d add that as a result of siding with us, they are no longer radioactive to other potential regional benefactors (ie. the Saudis), which increases their range of options in the event that it becomes in their interests to end their cooperation with us.

The major takeaway from Bacevich’s testimony boils down to the fact that we’ve got in his words, “too much war and too few warriors.” The transparent shortcoming of the Surge is that we are unable to follow it up with further increases in troop levels, whether to reinforce its gains or to shore up its weaknesses, for the simple reason that we don’t have them. (See vice chief of staff Gen. Richard Cody’s testimony on Army readiness.) Hence, Gen. Petraeus is obliged talk about “consolidating gains” with what amounts to a retreat.

Bacevich also details the bankruptcy of the war’s broader strategic prospects:

-“The Shiite militias, Sunni insurgents, and tribal leaders who have agreed to refrain from violence in return for arms, money, and other concessions have by no means bought into the American vision for the future of Iraq. Their interests do not coincide with our own and we should not delude ourselves by pretending otherwise.”
-“Iraq today qualifies only nominally as a sovereign nation-state. In reality it has become a dependency of the United States, unable to manage its own affairs or to provide for the well-being of its own people.”
-“The costs to the United States of sustaining this dependency are difficult to calculate with precision, but figures such as $3 billion per week and 30 to 40 American lives per month provide a good approximation.””The abject failure of the Freedom Agenda and the Bush Doctrine has robbed the Iraq War of any strategic rationale. The war continues in large part because of our refusal to acknowledge and confront this loss of strategic purpose.”

Bacevich is not arguing for a withdrawal so much as for a recognition that remaining in Iraq is incompatible with the Army’s current force capacity. The Bush administration’s failure to address the lack of available troops by any means other than what amounts to a hidden draft (operational Reserves, stop-loss measures, increased tour lengths) is to me its most damning and cynical failure in the conduct of the war. Bacevich concludes his testimony by stating, “The choice is one that we can no longer afford to dodge: it’s either less war or more warriors.” It’s clear that both President Bush and the American people have already made their choice. The only thing left now is to draw the necessary conclusions.