The Skeptics

From the Guys Who Brought You the War in Iraq

From Politico's "Morning Defense" newsletter comes this troubling tidbit:

PUTTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER - It's Iraq all over again. Petraeus is surrounding himself with some of the same civilian and military advisors upon whom he relied when he was in Iraq: Kim and Fred Kagan have been on an extended stay in Kabul, returning Friday, and Jack Keane is on his way at the end of the month. Stan McChrystal invited the Kagans, along with Max Boot and Stephen Biddle, to assess the effort and provide him feedback; Morning Defense is told that Petraeus renewed the invitation when he took over. “They're essentially looking at all aspects of the current campaign and offering advice to Petraeus on areas to tweak and/or change,” a senior official tells us. P4 also keeps Tal Afar master H.R. McMaster close by.

This news might warm the hearts of some in the Beltway establishment, but it should send a shiver up the spine of anyone who recalls the position taken by a number of these people concerning the war in Iraq, or really of anyone who can work Google to search before 2007, i.e. before the "success" of the surge turned them all into brilliant strategists, and rendered moot their views on the war going back to 2002 and 2003.

 Max Boot, in particular, would like us all to remember his defense of the surge, he the heroic pundit swimming against the tide of defeatism who turned the war effort around. Today he holds forth as a wise and far-sighted strategist who can predict what horrible fates would befall the nation if we were to reduce military spending to, say, pre-9/11 levels. In a recent op ed, he explained that similar cuts in the 1990s had left the "Army desperately overstretched by its subsequent deployments. Part of the reason too few troops were sent to stabilize Iraq in 2003 was that senior officials thought there simply weren't enough to go round."

That is not what he was saying in 2003, when he claimed that securing victory in Iraq would not require many troops:

Formal empire is passe, and Americans have little enthusiasm for it. Promoting liberal democracies with U.S. security guarantees is more our style. In Iraq, that means purging the Baathists, providing humanitarian relief, starting to rebuild, and then setting up a process to produce a representative
local government…

This means using American troops to secure all of Iraq. It will be insufficient to set up a peacekeeping force whose authority extends only to the capital. It will be unacceptable to say that peacekeeping is not a job for the U.S. military. Since the United States is committed to a “unitary” Iraq, it will have to commit sufficient force to make this a reality. This probably will not require the 200,000 troops suggested by Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki, but it will require a long-term commitment of at least 60,000 to 75,000 soldiers, the number estimated by Joint Staff planners. (emphasis added)

As Justin Logan asked when Boot was first holding forth as the sage of the surge, "Why should anyone be listening to him now?"

A more substantive critique could focus exclusively on the surge itself. News reports from Iraq are hardly encouraging, the government remains in limbo, violence is on the rise, and Iran's influence continues to grow. This combination of unhappy news has spurred a rising chorus of voices calling for a continuation of our mission in Iraq (as Ted noted here on Monday). This emerging conventional wisdom holds that we should renogotiate (or simply reneg on) our pledge to remove all troops from the country by the end of next year, and plan on a long term presence in the country along the lines of our 60-plus year commitment in Korea.

But how can this be? If the purpose of the surge was to create a space for political reconciliation and a reduction in sectarian violence, which would in turn lead to the creation of a strong and stable government in Iraq that was capable of balancing against Iran and otherwise serve as a bulwark in the region, and if neither of these things have happened, then how can we call the surge a success? And if the surge is not the great success that the advocates of the surge would have you believe, then how much confidence should we have in their advice as it pertains to Afghanistan?

Answer: Not much.