The Surge, and Skin in the Game

Every time I post something stating that the surge is not working, someone disputes it. Apparently I’m not the only one who has doubts:

Three months into the new U.S. military strategy that has sent tens of thousands of additional troops into Iraq, overall levels of violence in the country have not decreased, as attacks have shifted away from Baghdad and Anbar, where American forces are concentrated, only to rise in most other provinces, according to a Pentagon report released yesterday.

The report — the first comprehensive statistical overview of the new U.S. military strategy in Iraq — coincided with renewed fears of sectarian violence after the bombing yesterday of the same Shiite shrine north of Baghdad that was attacked in February 2006, unleashing a spiral of retaliatory bloodshed. Iraq’s government imposed an immediate curfew in Baghdad yesterday to prevent an outbreak of revenge killings.

Iraq’s government, for its part, has proven “uneven” in delivering on its commitments under the strategy, the report said, stating that public pledges by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have in many cases produced no concrete results.

Iraqi leaders have made “little progress” on the overarching political goals that the stepped-up security operations are intended to help advance, the report said, calling reconciliation between Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni factions “a serious unfulfilled objective.” Indeed, “some analysts see a growing fragmentation of Iraq,” it said, noting that 36 percent of Iraqis believe “the Iraqi people would be better off if the country were divided into three or more separate countries.”

The 46-page report, mandated quarterly by Congress, tempers the early optimism about the new strategy voiced by senior U.S. officials. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, for instance, in March described progress in Iraq as “so far, so good.” Instead, it depicts limited gains and setbacks and states that it is too soon to judge whether the new approach is working.

So… the best they can tell us is… “so far, so good.” How good?

Violence fell in Baghdad and Anbar province, where the bulk of the 28,700 more U.S. troops are located, but escalated elsewhere as insurgents and militias regroup in eastern and northern Iraq. In Anbar, attacks dropped by about a third, compared with the previous three months, as Sunni tribes have organized against entrenched fighters from al-Qaeda in Iraq, the report said.

Overall, however, violence “has increased in most provinces, particularly in the outlying areas of Baghdad province and Diyala and Ninewa provinces,” the report said. In Diyala’s restive capital of Baqubah, U.S. and Iraq forces “have been unable to diminish rising sectarian violence contributing to the volatile security situation,” it said.

But its limited, right?

It cited “significant evidence” of attacks on Sunni Arabs by the predominantly Shiite government security forces, which have contributed to the displacement of an estimated 2 million Iraqis from their homes.

And on the Shia front…

Shiite militias, which have engaged in the widespread killing and sectarian removal of Sunni residents in Baghdad, now enjoy wide support in the capital, the report said. “In Baghdad, a majority of residents report that militias act in the best interests of the Iraqi people,” it said, while only 20 percent of respondents polled nationwide shared that view. Maliki’s promises to disarm militias have not produced a concrete plan, the report said.

And since we’re an econ blog…

Iraq’s economic progress is also mixed, with some success in controlling inflation, while oil production remains stagnant and demand for electricity outstrips lagging supply.

My guess… like everything else the Pentagon has given us since this mess started, it probably plays up the positives and downplays the negatives. In other words, my guess is that this is the best possible spin. And the best possible is still awful.

I used to say that if things were going as well as the cheerleaders told us, you’d see some of them taking their families to Iraq for vacation. Now things have deteriorated to the point where even that isn’t true. Since they won’t listen to anyone else, its time to send all the cheerleaders and architects – the GWs and the Rummies and Freddie Kagans and Bill Kristols over to Iraq, and not let them leave until they solve the problem they created. Maybe if they had some skin in the game…