Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Right Strategy at the Right Time

In the fall of 2006, civilian casualties in Iraq skyrocketed following the ramping up of al Qaeda bombings of Shia civilians and Shia death squad murders of Sunni Arabs after the February bombing of the Shia Golden Mosque in Samarra. We had thought that we could pull our troops out of the fight with the Baathists, nationalist Sunnis, and jihadis checked from their efforts to defeat the government. The government of Iraq hoped to deal with Sadr as a political problem. The slaughter did not rise to the level of civil war, but it could have.

Our surge was our reaction to this killing spree. We added troops, concentrated on helping to protect Iraqi civilians since the Iraqis could not do this on their own, and carried out coordinated operations to secure Baghdad from local militias and from bombers sent in from the Baghdad belt and supplied from Iran and Syria.

Against the predictions of the anti-war side that the surge was doomed and despite my fears that the benefits of a correct approach in Iraq for the new circumstances of another phase in the war would be outweighed by the problems back home that the surge would cause, the surge has succeeded in reducing US and Iraqi casualties while hammering al Qaeda in Iraq. How did this happen?

Strategypage writes about this:

The question then becomes, "Why did the Surge work?" There are numerous factors that contributed to the success of Gen. Petreaus' Surge plan. The quick and simple answer is that it was the right plan at the right time.

The article addresses clear and hold with a focus on securing Baghdad, the improvements in Iraqi forces, the defection of Sunni Arabs who turned on the jihadis, the stand down of Sadr's militias, the Iraqi people who demanded their government provide security and provided tips, an elected Iraqi government that felt that pressure, and more US troops.

These are all true. But the quick and simple answer is the best answer. The surge approach probably would have failed in 2006 or 2005 and certainly wouldn't have worked in 2004. And 2008 might have been too late. I guess I'll reserve judgment about whether such an approach could have worked in 2003.

Truly, circumstances came together in 2007 to allow all the factors cited to work with the other factors to provide the clear beginnings of victory. Much like comedy, the key to war is often timing.

You need the right time for the right plan to work.