Towards A Good Samaritan World

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


The Wall Street Journal speaks up in favor of the surge:

President Bush is set to announce his new strategy for Iraq this week, and the early signs are that it will include both more American and Iraqi troops to improve security, especially in Baghdad. We think the American people will support the effort, as long as Mr. Bush treats this like the all-in proposition it deserves to be.

If the stakes in Iraq are as great as Mr. Bush says--and we believe they are--then he should commit whatever forces are needed to achieve success. The public's support for the Iraq campaign is waning, in major part because the casualties and expense have been producing no visible progress. Even with Democrats running Congress, Mr. Bush has a political window to pursue a more robust security strategy. The paradox is that the fastest way home from Iraq is a bolder commitment now.

Something's very odd about this situation. The Democrats just won the election, probably in large part because of public dissatisfaction over Iraq (though I'd like to think Republican stupidity on immigration had something to do with it, too). Then the Iraq Study Group, led by Republican grandee James Baker, came out in favor of phased withdrawal and engagement with Iran and Syria. From the political point of view, increasing troop levels at a time like this is perverse. And yet, even with the polls on their side 61-36% (although that's up from 12% support for the surge earlier), it seems that the Democrats will offer only symbolic resistance. Not that I'm exactly rooting for them to do it, but... if they're going to take an anti-war stance, what are they waiting for?

The most high-profile advocate of the surge, meanwhile, is John McCain. Maybe I'm biased because I'm a McCain fan... but I've been known to have a kind word for Bush, too. McCain has been advocating "more troops" longer; he's got more at stake since he's a possible-future-president rather than a lame-duck-current-president; he's more popular. And Bush would be too isolated to be effective without McCain's support.

I'm no military expert, but it doesn't seem to me the "surge" can help much. Some surge advocates specify larger numbers of troops, and demand that it be sustained, in order to turn the tide. But as political compromise tends to reduce the number, will they still be useful? And how will we use them? Ralph Peters also wants to know: what's the mission?

One useful mission I can think of is: seize Moktada al-Sadr. Put him on a prison-island somewhere, living in the lap of luxury, with profuse apologies and great deference and the best treatment he's had in his life, but tell him and the world the following: Sadr is suspected of ethnic cleansing, and we cannot in good conscience release him until he is cleared. Let the trial drag out for a few years. Try to get him tried at the Hague, and if we can't, argue, lawyerize... But get him out of Iraq and keep him out, for a while.

If we're not going to do that, I doubt a surge can be useful. I doubt that 40,000 troops can stop ethnic cleansing. We probably can't afford to keep them there very long, and if they're there only briefly, they would postpone ethnic cleansing rather than stopping it. Yet the bluff of a surge might be useful. Is that what McCain is up to? The logic of it might run: the Iraq Study Group report makes Americans look like defeatist wimps, so we've got to show that we've got some hawkishness left in us. So let's talk about a troop surge, then back down, but show the world that the hawks are still out there, they lost this battle but they could make a comeback at any time...


  • I'd just like to point out that Muqtada al-Sadr is mostly a figure-head, and he doesn't really have that much power in Baghdad; he's not like "the Godfather", if that's what you're thinking. Although, he might attain more regional influence through his capture, ironically (?)...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:36 PM  

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