Sunday, April 29, 2007

New Strategy

Our current surge is a change of strategy to put American forces directly into the streets to police Iraq in order to tamp down violence.

Max Boot wishes we'd changed strategy earlier from the 2006 strategy of relying on the Iraqis to do that job:

I think the strategy sincerely came from General Abizaid and General Casey. I think President Bush was clear all along that he would take the best military advice that he could get, and that was the advice that he was taking, and it was a well intentioned strategy, it was the light footprint approach that Rumsfeld was in favor of, that Abizaid and Casey were in favor of, which basically thought that the less we did, the better, and the more the Iraqis would step forward to take control of their own affairs. That was a perfectly reasonable strategy, but it simply failed, and we know it failed, and so it was time to try something different. And you know, frankly, I wish President Bush had tried a different approach earlier, because I think it had been apparent earlier that that strategy wasn’t working, but better late than never, and finally, he decided to change his defense secretary, to change his commanders on the ground, to try something different, and that’s what we’re doing now, and I think it’s
incredibly important that we give General Petraeus and his team a chance to at least try to be successful, and to show what they can do over the course of at least a year or more without reaching to any premature conclusions about how the new strategy will work out.

Given the situation in January 2006, the former strategy was reasonable. The Shias had not at that point reacted to Sunni terror and the Baathists were defeated. It looked like the Sunni Arabs would finally surrender and the government would deal with Sadr as a political problem. We thought we could draw down our combat brigades by the end of 2006. Talk of 100,000 American troops in Iraq by the end of 2006 seemed reasonable.

The February Samarra bombing changed the war and made that strategy obsolete in regard to Baghdad. The war switched from a largely internal war that we had won to one where the still green Iraqi goverment faced a foreign invasion. Iranian and Syrian support for Shia death squads and Sunni Arab terrorists marked the start of this new phase of the war.

Pacifying Baghdad is key right now. To secure the city, it would have been far preferrable to change strategy in late summer 2006 when it became clear that the old strategy would no longer work. Indeed, I concluded this in April 2006 by calling for a more direct American role in Baghdad. So I recognize that our military was indeed too slow to react to the new situation. But it was not unreasonable to hope that we could push the Iraqi government to take care of the new problem.

By fall 2006, we decided that the old strategy would not work and that we could not rely on the Iraqis alone to handle the problem. Talk of how we might change approaches was clearly heard. I don't know if we could have changed strategy with an election coming up, however. We continued to try and secure Baghdad under the old rules through the fall. Now we are two months into a new strategy that relies on more aggressive methods. These methods are more important than troops numbers, I think.

The current track was not always the right course of action. But we are on the right track for the current problem. We will win this if we don't pack up and retreat on our own.