Monday, July 28, 2008

Michael O'Hanlon - Assessing Success In Iraq

At the American Prospect, the editors ask "how important was the surge?" This after Obama who, in order to suggest that his judgement in opposing the surge was not as grossly poor as in reality it was, has shown the even worse judgment in denigrating the importance of the surge, crediting the lions share of the success to the Anbar Awakening and Sadr's cease fire, as if both were unrelated to the surge. I've answered this question several times, but Michael O'Hanlon has the most articulate and accurate answer to date.

What was the most important factor in the dramatic turnaround in Iraq over the past year or so (a period during which violence rates have declined by at least 75 percent and about half of key legislative goals have been partially or fully satisfied, even if much remains to be done?) There is room for some debate in this matter, to be sure, but only so much. It seems incontrovertible to me that several major factors, including certainly the surge, were hugely important--and also synergistically important, in that the sum of effects was much greater than the sum of the parts.

Certainly the Sunni Anbar Awakening gets high marks. It was the first thing to happen in the last two years of major note. It brought much of the core of the insurgency into alliance with the United States and Iraqi government, and over time it spread to the Baghdad belts and increasingly to the north of Iraq.

However, it was the United States that organized the Awakening tribes into a coherent military and policing effort.

It was the United States, with Iraqi Security Forces, that cleared cities like Ramadi -- and unlike in past efforts, kept forces there afterwards to preserve the stability and keep extremists like al-Qaeda in Iraq out of the places from which they had been driven. It was the United States that sufficiently intimidated Muqtada al-Sadr into realizing a ceasefire better served his interests than would a renewal of battle. It was American and Iraqi security forces that, in larger numbers than before and with new operational guidelines and tactics, built blast barriers near markets, put up concrete dividers along sectarian fault lines in Baghdad, created joint security stations and started walking the streets to protect the Iraqi population, and conducted raids on insurgent safehouses and weapons caches at two to three times the rate of previous years (largely due to improved intelligence made possible by a safer, friendler, better protected population). And through all these combined efforts, it was largely the United States that was able to figure out which Iraqi commanders needed to be purged -- and that then put pressure on the Iraqi government to replace them.

On balance, many things were important, but the surge and the associated emphasis on better protection for the Iraqi population were crucial -- and absolutely necessary to the huge progress that has been made.

Yeah. What he said.


suek said...

The man doesn't understand what terrorism _is_.

He doesn't understand that when you don't have someone with firepower to support you, the terrorists - who have firepower, and who kill with absolutely no remorse - control the situation. He's an idiot.

Jimmy J. said...

IMHO the path events that occurred in Iraq fell into a pattern that, barring an unconditional surrender and laying down of all arms after the invasion,almost had to occur. It took time for the Iraqis to realize the al Qaeda goons were not their friends (the Anbar awakening), it took time to train and season the Iraqi Army, and the surge took place at just the right time to take advantage of the other two developments. It was synergistic, to use a two bit word.

Of course Petraeus's change of tactics that accompanied the surge was absolutely necessary. Another nifty bit of synergism.