Success of the Surge

by Bruce Webb

John McCain and others have been all over TV arguing that the success of the Surge in Iraq proves that we should just go ahead and throw forty thousand more troops on top of the twenty thousand sent in March to Afghanistan. Well ignoring for the moment that where the surge increased U.S. forces by about a third and this combination of surges represents a doubling, why do we conclude that the surge was a success to start with? What was the baseline against which we have our metric?

Back in the day we had a commenter here who insisted that those of us who resisted the surge were clearly proved wrong by the calm conditions in Anbar Province, and particularly Falluljah and Ramadi, my didn’t we feel silly? Well no and items like this from today show why. Deadly Blasts Target Police, Government Buildings in Iraq

Sunday, October 11, 2009; 10:33 AM
BAGHDAD — Three car bombings targeted a police station and a government headquarters in Ramadi in western Iraq on Sunday, killing at least 18 people and underlining the precarious situation in Anbar province.

And in the same story we have this:

The bombings came a few days after a truck piled with explosives detonated outside a police station in Amiriyah, about 10 miles south of Fallujah, killing nine people. The town was once known as the stronghold of the insurgency.

The surge was marked by a sharp spike in U.S. casualties starting when troops were there in full strength in Fall 2006 and stayed high until the end of the full force of the surge the next summer, leading 2007 to be the second highest year for coalition casualties. Now certainly deaths fell off after that but some might argue that was the result of the deal Bush signed to withdraw all troops by 2010. The question is what did the surge actually buy the IRAQIS that justified so much sacrifice from the US? How is it that two years after the surge the situation in Anbar, triumphumantly held up as proof of the surge’s effectiveness is now described as “precarious”.

So I want to ask a version of the question posed the other day. Can we actually Score the Surge? By what numeric, social or political metric is it really a success. That less soldiers are getting killed after than during could be said for just about any battle, anywhere. Once the battle or war is won or lost relatively fewer people get killed, that is not in itself a metric of success.

I don’t bring this up just to pick at a barely healed scab. In the new drumbeat for war it is held up that people who opposed the surge have been proven to be soft-headed idiots. Well can someone put that in quantifiable terms? We had an Iraqi election, and now we are going to have another one, and a lot depends of whether Maliki can pull this out. If not things might get a little messy as an Iranian friendly regime takes power. So, Got Numbers? A Hard Metric? Anything more than ‘We told you so!’

Maybe the success is self-evident to everyone in the world radiating from the beltway outwards, maybe it just hasn’t reached me here. But I don’t see anything bought in 2006 and 2007 that we couldn’t have got by having Bush sign that troop withdrawal deal two years earlier than he ultimately did.