Friday, August 24, 2007

is the surge working?

a parade of politicians and wonks keep giving conclusory statements that it is.

the surge plan had two components. part one was to surge troops into baghdad to reduce the violence level. part two was to use this "breathing space" from the reduction in violence to give iraqi politicians a change to resolve the thorny issues that have been undermining political reconciliation in iraq. under pressure from congress, the u.s. established 18 benchmarks to measure the iraqis progress under this breathing space, and thus the success of the surge.

last month, the u.s. reported that none of the 18 benchmarks had been met. it did, however, claim that there was progress on eight of the 18. but if you looked at the details, those eight "success" areas turned out to be a joke. and in the month since then, no further progress has been made, as the iraqi parliament went on a recess and the maliki coalition has basically fallen apart.

in other words, the "breathing space" failed to produce results. which means that so far the surge has failed. at least it has on the very metrics established by the u.s. government at the beginning of the strategy.

but the only benchmarks the u.s. established were about part two of the surge strategy, the part that required iraqi action. there were no benchmarks to measure whether part one, the u.s. military's half, was working. by design the surge included accountability for the iraqis but not the americans. which meant that if it didn't work, it would be very easy to shift the blame for failure on to iraqi politicians.

and like clockwork that's what we're seeing now. a parade of people are proclaiming that "the surge" (by that they mean the military half, or what i call "part one") was a success, but then blaming the iraqis flubbed reconciliation (i.e. "part two"). we would have gotten away with it too, if not for those meddling iraqis!

the surge required success on both part one and two. so how do we know that part one worked? no one established any benchmarks, but there is still data out there. kevin drum looks at the numbers and it's hard to see how it can be called "a success" either. sure, iraqi politicians failed to hold up their end of the bargain.1 but it looks to me like the u.s. didn't come through on its end either. the iraqis never got any breathing space, a prerequisite for part two. if anything the surge in troops may have intensified the violence. so how is it their fault again?

1- putting aside the fact that the word "bargain" is kinda a stretch. the iraqis were never consulted in setting the goals for the surge or in writing any of the benchmarks. from the start it was never clear if several of the things the iraqis were supposed to accomplish were even possible. at best they were a real long shot.