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In Focus: Has the Surge Failed?

Michael Kinsley thinks the surge is a failure because it hasn't led to one of its implicit promises: troop withdrawal. A few bloggers -- and a fellow Washington Post pundit -- beg to differ. Michael Weiss has a reaction round-up.

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Michael Weiss

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February 22, 2008 - 9:45 am

Michael Kinsley has written an op-ed in the Washington Post, “Defining Victory Down,” arguing that the surge is a failure because it has not led to its pre-mandated withdrawal of troops from Iraq. According to Kinsley’s math, the goal was to have reduced the number of troops in country to about 100,000 by this coming July. When the president announced the new war strategy, he cited the addition 20,000 more troops to battlefield that, at the time, already had 130,000 on the ground. In the event, the surge sent 30,000 more, and although today there are 150,000, Gen. Petraeus has declared a “pause” on any further drawdown. At this rate, then, 100,000-by-July seems a wistful fantasy. Q.E.D., the surge is a bust:

So the best that we can hope for, in terms of American troops risking their lives in Iraq, is that there will be just as many in July — and probably in January, when Bush leaves office — as there were a year ago. The surge will have surged in and surged out, leaving us back where we started. Maybe the situation in Baghdad, or all of Iraq, will have improved. But apparently it won’t have improved enough to risk an actual reduction in the American troop commitment.

Against this, Postmodern Conservative writes: “It’s not fair to say the Surge ‘isn’t a success’ at doing what everyone including its wildest fans said from the beginning it could never do. But that isn’t the point, is it? The point is that the conditions that trigger our final objective are still very far away, and still out of our hands.”

“So the surge is bringing down violence,” says Sideways Mencken, “and because of the surge the Iraqi people seem to be managing a halting, shaky, bottom-up modus vivendi, but it’s still a failure because rather than cutting to 100,000 men we’re choosing to be prudent and hold onto 130,000? So it’s time to flee?… He’s balancing his argument on a simple question of numbers. If we were willing — after all we’ve finally learned about the Rumsfeldian idiocy of going in with too few men — to cut an extra 30,000, Kinsley would be fine, it seems. But the fact that we’re being prudent proves that we’ve failed.”

This Ain’t Hell, But You Can See It From Here notes: “[t]he whole strategy of the surge was to stabilize the situation in Iraq so that a political solution to Iraq’s balkanized tribes could be worked out without mortar shells falling on them every ten minutes. It has never been about reducing our troops under a deadline…”

Meanwhile, Kinsley’s colleague Charles Krauthammer, has penned this defense of the surge, pointing out that the coveted political reconciliation it was conceived to bring about has, in effect, begun to happen:

First, a provincial powers law that turns Iraq into arguably the most federal state in the entire Arab world. The provinces get not only power but also elections by Oct. 1. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker has long been calling this the most crucial step to political stability. It will allow, for example, the pro-American Anbar sheiks to become the legitimate rulers of their province, exercise regional autonomy and forge official relations with the Shiite-dominated central government.

Second, parliament passed a partial amnesty for prisoners, 80 percent of whom are Sunni. Finally, it approved a $48 billion national budget that allocates government revenue — about 85 percent of which is from oil — to the provinces. Kurdistan, for example, gets one-sixth.

Michael Weiss is the New York Editor of PJ Media.

Michael Weiss is a senior editor of Tablet Magazine and a culture blogger for The New Criterion. He also writes occasionally for Slate, The Weekly Standard, City Journal, The New York Daily News and Standpoint.
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