Over at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, Dan Froomkin has written a good analysis of what is missing from the “the surge has worked” perspective on Iraq. Froomkin discusses the argument about the surge made by Peter Galbraith. Some of the key points in Froomkin’s piece:
Certainly the surge has been accompanied by a dramatic and welcome reduction in violence. But Galbraith argues that it wasn’t the surge as much as other factors that led to the reduction in violence; that the main factor was the Sunni Awakening; and that the U.S.’s de facto creation of a Sunni army — led in some cases by the same Baathists the U.S. invaded Iraq to overthrow – has in fact contributed to Iraq’s breakup and set the stage for an intensified civil war between Sunnis and Shiites once the U.S gets out of the way. Whenever that is.
Galbraith thinks journalists are under-reporting certain key aspects of the current Iraqi political situation. Among them:
- The character of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, which Galbraith says is profoundly anti-Sunni and not likely to make accommodations, regardless of the occasional PR blitz to the contrary. Reporters should also talk to Sunnis and Kurds in the government and ask them how much influence they feel they have. Reporters in Washington should be asking their sources: Do you really see Maliki as someone who is committed to secular democracy?
- The character of the Sunni Awakening. A hundred thousand Sunni fighters – used to getting paid $300 a month by the United States – are in fact not going to be easily accommodated by the Shiite government. And who knows what they’ll do when the U.S. stops paying them?
The linking of reduced fatalities to the coalition’s prospects for withdrawal is flawed. At least some of the proponents of the surge seem to know that – the Bush administration has committed itself to maintaining troop levels pretty much constant to the end of its term.
What is most important is attempting to ensure conditions that will foster lasting peace – which requires political, social and economic stability. That still hasn’t happened. For four years it seemed like there was little in the way of a coalition strategy toward peace in and withdrawal from Iraq. The surge then became the strategy, when it could only ever serve as one plank in a larger platform.
The debate itself still hasn’t moved. Many of the mouthpieces of the surge talk about Victory! without defining it. What everyone needs to be talking about is how to leave a stable Iraq.
UPDATE: And then there is the argument that the surge is not even responsible for the reduction in violence – such as this analysis, which suggests sectarian violence cleared out the hotspots for conflict.