Did the Surge Work? Who Can Say?
Ezra Klein and his summer intern have compiled ten expert responses to the question “How Important Was the Surge?” Not surprisingly, those from Center for American Progress answered “Not all that important” whereas Michael O’Hanlon and others who supported the Surge to begin with though it was “undoubtedly very important.” Or, as Marc Danziger puts it,
There’s a fairly wide range of opinions there, mostly based on the [preset position] + “but who can say?” view of historical analysis.
He also notes that, in war as in poker, signaling is very important and the mere fact of the United States doubling down on its bet was powerfully important. I agree.
The causes of the decline in violence were manifold; the Surge was among them. Certainly, though, the Surge hasn’t “worked” in the advertised sense. Thus far, at least, it hasn’t led to the political reconciliation for which we were providing breathing room. And most of what good has been accomplished has come from the bottom up and than the top down — and thus given more power to local tribal leaders and warlords, probably making some of our political goals harder to achieve.
The good news is that violence is down and the Iraqi military and security forces show signs of great progress. The bad news is that the Sunnis and Shia don’t seem to be coming together and the Kurds seem to be moving even further toward autonomy. Iraq has had two national elections in the post-Saddam era but pluralism and democracy are far from institutionalized.
The question, then, is whether the first can be sustained long enough to change the second. We could assemble ten times ten Iraqi experts and we won’t get an answer much better than “Who can say?”