The Surge

Wednesday night at 9PM Eastern Time President Bush will address the nation and unveil his new strategy for going forward in Iraq. His long-awaited speech comes at a moment in the Iraq debate when there is overwhelming consensus about only thing: The current strategy is an untenable failure.

By all accounts, Bush will propose a “surge” of 20,000 American troops in a bid to quell the violence in Baghdad. (There will be an economic component to the plan as well, but it is irrelevant.) The hope is that with a baseline of security established the neglected art of political compromise will be more attractive to all parties involved. This is nothing more than a hope, and a bleak hope at that.

If Bush were proposing a 200,000 troop surge, then it would be another matter entirely. As Wes Clark points out in a column for The Washington Post: “In Kosovo, we had 40,000 troops for a population of 2 million. That ratio would call for at least 500,000 troops in Iraq; adding 20,000 now seems too little, too late.” Indeed. If Bush were proposing a 20,000 troop surge two or three years ago, then it would be another matter entirely. Or, even better yet, if he went into Iraq with enough troops to begin with, then it would be another matter entirely (to put it mildly). But he never did, and he isn’t now.

The message coming from the White House, Senator McCain, and newly-Independent Senator Joe Lieberman is that there is one Manichean choice: Surge or defeat. That is fallacy. Willfully dishonest fallacy. Conversely, those congregated on the recently enlarged Democratic side of the aisle in the House calling for immediate withdrawal as the solution to our Iraqi predicament are promoting as deeply dishonest (or deeply irresponsible) policy as well.

The reality is so much worse. The reality is that we can’t make the Iraqis buy into a democratic bargain. (It sounds like a cliche, but it is no less true, we can’t want a decent, quasi-democratic Iraq more than the Iraqis themselves.) And 20,000 troops is not going to change what is in people’s hearts and minds. The corollary to this reality is that we can’t leave Iraq (strategically and morally) and wash our hands of what could be a regionally destabilizing civil war with genocidal implications.

A serious plan for Iraq would focus on how we contain the catastrophe and hold things at a palatable level for the years ahead. Yes, years ahead. If the president’s plan acknowledged the dire reality on the ground, acknowledged the lunacy that 20,000 troops is all that stands between civil war and a Jeffersonian democracy, and acknowledged that the only choices left to make are bad and worse, then my ears would open up. If then – and only then – he made the case that 20,000 troops would help us move toward a long-term strategy of containing the fallout from this debacle I might, might, be amenable to the idea of surge.

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4 Comments on “The Surge”

  1. HW Says:

    A surge is a surge, not a strategy.

    Is this really fair about the Democrats? Is anyone on their end really advocating immediate withdrawal? All I’ve heard so far is a call for a draw-down. I imagine that many Democrats would like to call for immediate withdrawal but aren’t going to say so out loud.

  2. ERG Says:

    Perhaps I was unfair and painting with too broad a brush, but according to this Times article ( I think it is fair to conclude that at least John Kerry and Russ Feingold want an immediate withdrawal, and I am sure there are a host of others. In addition, I have no numbers on this but I think if you polled registered Democrats you would get a sizeable chunk of opinion in favor of immediate withdrawal (or somesuch equivalent like the Kerry-Feingold proposal which calls for withdrawal by June of this year).

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