The Surge That Failed

By Robinson, Paul | The American Conservative, July 3, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Surge That Failed


Robinson, Paul, The American Conservative


[autopsy in progress]

Iraq still lacks conditions for peace. More troops don't change that.

"HOW WAS IT," asked Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace, that the Russian army "did not achieve its purpose when it had surrounded the French on three sides and its intention was to capture them?" The answer, according to Tolstoy, was that "the aim of cutting off Napoleon and his army never existed except in the imagination of some dozen individuals. It could not have existed because it was absurd and impracticable."

Today we have our own version of an absurd and impracticable plan-the surge in Iraq-and again only a dozen or so individuals, concentrated in the White House and the corridors of the American Enterprise Institute, seem to believe that it can succeed. Among them are William Kristol and Frederick Kagan.

In the June 26 issue of The Weekly Standard, they comment that "real progress has already been made in the war against Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the terrorists know it. That's why they're surging against our surge." A few weeks earlier, another true believer, Charles Krauthammer, argued that a temporary reduction in violence in Iraq (since reversed) was also evidence that the surge was working. In the rose-tinted world of the neoconservative revolutionaries, if violence goes up, the surge is succeeding; if it goes down, that is also a sign that the surge is succeeding. Back on Planet Earth, the general opinion appears to be that the situation has stayed about the same: better in some places, worse in others. But no doubt more of the same is evidence of progress to the neocons as well.

The war's supporters have long been arguing that the insurgency is in its "last throes." At present, much is being made of an alleged alliance between American forces and Sunni tribes in Anbar province against al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Anbar Sunnis have decisively turned against AQI, we are told. Unfortunately we have heard this many times in the past, yet AQI still survives.

In October 2004, for instance, the Washington Post reported, "Local insurgents in the city of Fallujah are turning against the foreign fighters who have been their allies in the rebellion that has held the U.S. military at bay in parts of Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland." In August 2005, the same newspaper then reported, "Rising up against insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, Iraqi Sunni Muslims in Ramadi fought with grenade launchers and automatic weapons Saturday to defend their Shiite neighbors against a bid to drive them from the western city. . . . The fighting in Ramadi suggested a potentially serious threat to Zarqawi's group, al Qaeda in Iraq." Again, in September 2005, a statement by the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars denouncing the tactics of AQI was met with the assertion that it "repre- sents compelling evidence of a real break between mainstream Sunni Iraqis and fringe Salafist extremists." And then in March 2006, USA Today stepped in to declare that "there were signs in parts of Iraq that local Sunni leaders and their militias were rising up against foreign fighters." Despite all this, like weeds in a garden, AQI keeps popping up again, and U.S.-Sunni deals notwithstanding, it will continue to do so. The environment suits it too well.

Tolstoy, a veteran of the siege of Sevastopol and experienced in matters of war, felt that a great general was one like Marshal Kutuzov who "knows that there is something stronger and more important than his own will-the inevitable march of events-and has the brains to see them and grasp their significance." One does not have to share Tolstoy's historical determinism to see that there is something to what he says. Putting his ideas in a slightly different context, something called "ripeness theory" is currently in vogue in academic studies of conflict termination. The theory suggests that even the most competent general, with the strongest will, executing the best strategy for conflict resolution in the most efficient manner, will not succeed if the conditions for peace do not already exist, unless, in other words, the time is ripe. …

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