Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Surge

Critics of the Iraq war originally predicted that the Surge would fail. In fairness to the critics, there was reason to be skeptical. We had tried many other things to no effect. So there was no way of predicting the outcome of the Surge, although that’s a reason to reserve judgment rather than forecast failure. It would have been more prudent of the critics to withhold judgment. To wait and see.

However, even the critics now admit that the Surge has been surprisingly successful. This hasn’t caused them to oppose the Iraq war. They have simply changed their argument. Their revised objection is that even though we’re making military progress, there has been no corresponding political progress. So the Surge is still a failure.

And it may be the case that the effort to democratize Iraq will fail. That remains to be seen. Would this mean that we lost the war?

That all depends on how you define winning and losing. It’s true that Bush set the bar pretty high. But I’m not a spokesman for Bush, so I’m not bound by his definition.

I would say, rather, that if we defeat our enemies militarily, then we have won. That’s the best message we can send to our enemies. If you attack us, you will lose. We will beat you on your own turf. You may start it, but we will finish it. To pick a fight with the American military is a losing proposition.

Gen. Petraeus has been achieving results under the most disadvantageous circumstances imaginable. That sends a very impressive message to the militants and wannabes. Force is all they understand. Jihadis live by the sword. That’s how they measure success or failure.

So if we do withdraw from Iraq without having established a working democracy, I don’t regard that as a lost cause. Even if democracy is a lost cause, that doesn’t mean the war was a lost cause.

And this is irrespective of whether you think we should have gone into Iraq in the first place. There’s a sense in which the outcome is all the more impressive if it was predicated on a miscalculation. Despite the odds, one great General with the greatest military on earth was able to turn what was—at best—a stalemate or war of attrition, and—at worst—a losing battle, into a victorious strategy. If we can best the enemy on those terms, then we can best the enemy on any terms.

11 comments:

  1. Steve,

    I suspect you'll get some disagreemet about your definition of winning. But, if we use your definition we definitely "won" and did that quickly.

    Unfortunately, as you mention, the Bush administration set the bar high and established as their objective the democratization of Iraq. And that is what we have been doing in the years after we won the military war. I for one am highly skeptical that we will ever win that war.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I pray that this will work. The goal that I understand is we work for is the freedom of choice for the common man in Iraq. We are using the military as a tool to help make this place on earth better. I hope that something good will come of this.

    I am concerned that some of 'American religion' think that this freedom of choice will be the first step in preparing the ground for people to freely choose God. I have been learning the deep biblical truth in reformed thinking that points to our choices being subjected to our fallen condition. That would inform this very motivation in working in Iraq. I do believe that other Christians do have a true concern for Iraqi people. The application of how we do this might be a deeper calling and a greater price than our military mobilization, and our private contractors.

    Am I currently supporting anything to help with my dollars or time? No, unfortunately, all this governmental action is filling up the scene. Yes, I should get busy on our people damaged in this war.
    Pray for me,
    Rob.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Emanuel Goldstein12/28/2007 2:43 AM

    Its amusing that ministerial students and their crowd love to pontificate on political issues.

    War especially.

    Of course, ministers are exempt from serving and love to talk about what Christianity can do for the world, while relying on the methods of death and destruction to protect their positions.

    We even have a President who never had strings pulled to avoid Vietnam and a vice pres who had "other prioriteis".

    What we have managed to do is create a new generation that will hate our guts for the next 200 years.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "That all depends on how you define winning and losing."

    And I'm going to define winning and losing in such a way as to prove that we didn't lose!

    Genius.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "That all depends on how you define winning and losing."

    How can a Second Generation military win a Fourth Generation war?

    ReplyDelete
  6. EMANUEL GOLDSTEIN SAID:

    “Its amusing that ministerial students and their crowd love to pontificate on political issues. War especially.”

    What makes you think seminarians are less qualified to “pontificate” on political issues than anyone else? What are you qualifications to pontificate on politics?

    BTW, what makes you think that most or all of the Tbloggers are seminarians?

    “Of course, ministers are exempt from serving and love to talk about what Christianity can do for the world, while relying on the methods of death and destruction to protect their positions.”

    You’ve packed a lot of assumptions into one sentence. Ministers can volunteer to serve, as in military chaplains.

    On the other hand, you don’t strike me as the type who would be a big fan of Christian chaplains in the military.

    And Christians in general are not exempt. So, if you’re trying to play the hypocrisy card, that won’t get you very far.

    Are you also insinuating that warfare is incompatible with Christian ethics? What Christian theologians, Christian ethicists, and Bible scholars have you actually read? Give us a list of names and titles.

    “We even have a President who never had strings pulled to avoid Vietnam.”

    Do you have any hard evidence to back up that claim?

    “And a vice pres who had ‘other prioriteis’.”

    You’re only argument is an ad hominem argument. The charge of hypocrisy. That’s a logical fallacy.

    Whether Bush/Cheney are hypocrites is logically irrelevant to whether we should have invaded Iraq. So your objection is irrational.

    Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Bush/Cheney were draft-dodgers, how is that a logical argument against the Iraq war? It isn’t.

    “What we have managed to do is create a new generation that will hate our guts for the next 200 years.”

    The next generation will have a lifespan of 200 years? Medical science is certainly making impressive strides in human longevity.

    Do you think that American foreign policy should be a popularity contest? I doubt we were very popular with the Nazis or Kamikazes or Bolsheviks.

    MERKUR SAID:

    “And I'm going to define winning and losing in such a way as to prove that we didn't lose! Genius.”

    Opponents of the war effort also define winning and losing in such a way as to prove that we are losing.

    The jihadis are warriors. So defining victory or defeat in militaristic terms is a very appropriate definition, given the nature of the enemy. If our combatants beat their combatants, then, yes, we won and they lost.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Emanuel said:
    ---
    What we have managed to do is create a new generation that will hate our guts for the next 200 years.
    ---

    In addition to what Steve already pointed out, I'll add that it's ludicrous to assume that enemies will remain enemies for this long (or that friends will remain friends this long for that matter).

    Consider, the War of 1812 ended in 1814. America and the Brits were killing each other. 100 years later, World War I happened. America and the UK were allies. But I'm sure if you asked an American or an Englishman from 1814 their opinion, they'd say that we'd be enemies for 200 years...

    The fact of the matter is that political alliances shift over time (and not very great amounts of time either). A friend in 2000 could be a foe in 2010, and our enemy in 2000 could be our ally against that common foe by 2010.

    This is the way these things happen, as any historian will note.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "What we have managed to do is create a new generation that will hate our guts for the next 200 years."

    Actually, they've hated our guts without a cause for 1400 yrs.:

    http://www.answering-islam.org/Green/crusades-stenhouse.htm

    ReplyDelete
  9. Steve, I’m gratified that “the Surge” seems to be working. And the reason it seems to be working is because Petraeus has turned the “occupation” into something like what Robert Kaplan advocated in this 2003 article:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200307/kaplan

    Here, Kaplan argues that it is our mid-level officers, out mixing it up with local populations, that gives our military true influence in such “nation-building” situations. And that very thing is seen to be happening in Iraq today:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2180883

    "Hey," [Captain] Phillips admonished the feuding tribal leaders, "There can't be anymore of this Dulaimi versus Assawi action going on." Over the years, I've watched the same scene unfold at mosques and homes in western and southern Baghdad, Mosul, Ramadi, Sinjar, and Tal Afar. Absent a functioning government, the U.S Army administers nearly every visible facet of the state, above all the role of honest broker.

    But maybe Petraeus was too clever by half, having made for us a longer-term commitment than anybody here wanted to make – maybe the violence will remain stopped, so long as the US Army stays put there. It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to suggest, in Kaplan’s own words, that Iraq today “illustrates the imperial reality of America's global situation.”

    Now, according to the Slate article, it is the case that very many Soldiers don’t want to come home. They have expended too much of their own lives in making sure that Iraq could be a success. They are like the kidnappees who grow to feel too much affection for their kidnappers. You certainly would be among those who say that is abnormal.

    No doubt there are some who see an American empire as the natural order of things for all time. That is not a wise outlook. The task ahead for the United States has an end point, and in all probability the end point lies not beyond the conceptual horizon but in the middle distance—a few decades from now. For a limited period the United States has the power to write the terms for international society, in hopes that when the country's imperial hour has passed, new international institutions and stable regional powers will have begun to flourish, creating a kind of civil society for the world. The historian E. H. Carr once observed that "every approach in the past to a world society has been the product of the ascendancy of a single Power." Such ascendancy allows all manner of worldwide connections—economic, cultural, institutional—to be made in a context of order and stability. There will be nothing approaching a true world government, but we may be able to nurture a loose set of global arrangements that have arisen organically among responsible and like-minded states.

    The hope for extricating the US Military from Iraq, then, is for some kind of “loose” “arrangement” to have “arisen organically” in Iraq. How long will that take?

    I disagree with you that we should look at this as some kind of victory “irrespective of whether you think we should have gone into Iraq in the first place.” It WAS a strategic blunder to go in, - the cost to this country (and especially to the military) has been huge. Yes, the military finally had the wherewithal to stop the bleeding (of blood, if not, of treasure.) There had to have been better ways to get to this point.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I think some commenters are allowing their opposition to the Iraq war to deflect them from the point of this post. This is not a post in support of the Iraq war, per se. This Iraq war may well have been a miscalculation—although that’s an issue over which reasonable men may differ.

    The point, rather, is how should we define victory or defeat. I think it’s not unreasonable to define victory and defeat in the same terms that our enemies define victory and defeat. That would be defeating them on their own terms.

    How do the jihadis define victory and defeat? It seems to me that they define it on the battleground.

    Winning or losing is, in large part, a question of perceptions. Do the losers feel they lost? If we beat the militants by military means, then I’d define that as winning because that is how they themselves have framed the conflict. Jihad reflects the outlook of a warrior culture.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Then I agree with you, the Jihadiests certainly should feel themself as having been defeated. (Although some of Al-Sadr's mutant militias seem to want to fight on.) But that doesn't change the fact that we are now in a bind that we can't get out of, in a situation that will probably cost billions and billions more dollars, will commit our military to Iraq for an endless period of time. And I still think there had to have been a much better way to have gotten to a point like this (and even to have achieved our goals of "military defeat" of the Jihadists, without having gotten into this kind of situation.

    ReplyDelete