May 11, 2007

The "Surge" - Which Hasn't Actually Started Yet - Is Petering Out!

Hatched by Dafydd

The rush to despair really gets my goat... forcing me, once again, to criticize my all-time favorite blog.

Paul Mirengoff on Power Line wrote a post today fretting that "the surge" (as he insists upon calling it) may be "too little too late." Here is the excerpt in which he defends this military analysis:

It is true that the surge is not complete. But it sounds like the additional forces will concentrate on the outskirts of Baghdad. Though it's possible that progress there will bring benefits to Baghdad, it seems at least as likely that what we're seeing now in Baghdad is roughly what we will get during the remainder of the year.

Where to begin? Oh, I know where...

The urge to "surge"

First, the term "surge" is both misleading and unfortunate. I think it comes from the Iraq Study Group's final report, where they wrote (page 50):

Because of the importance of Iraq to our regional security goals and to our ongoing fight against al Qaeda, we considered proposals to make a substantial increase (100,000 to 200,000) in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. We rejected this course because we do not believe that the needed levels are available for a sustained deployment. Further, adding more American troops could conceivably worsen those aspects of the security problem that are fed by the view that the U.S. presence is intended to be a long-term “occupation.” We could, however, support a short-term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad, or to speed up the training and equipping mission, if the U.S. commander in Iraq determines that such steps would be effective.

I don't know where they got it; some chowderhead in the Pentagon, most likely. But applying this term to Gen. David Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy is like calling the Battle of the Philippines in World War II a kafuffle: It's non-descriptive, pejorative, and dismissive.

I really wish both those in the news media and secondary sources like bloggers would stop describing our complete change of strategy as a "surge." A surge would mean just squirting a few more troops into the existing strategy.

Instead, we have fundamentally changed everything about our approach to Iraq. It's time to move on from any initial misconceptions we had in 2006 to what we now understand (if we've kept up with our Big Lizards reading) was the complete replacement of a failed "attrition" strategy to a new strategy of counterinsurgency -- which has been effective in similar situations in the past (e.g., Algeria and Vietnam) -- coupled with replacing the entire top leadership of the war, from the commander of MNF-I (Gen. George Casey) to the commander of CENTCOM (Gen. John Abizaid) to the Secretary of Defense himself (Don Rumsfeld).

Those positions are now held by Gen. David Petraeus (commander MNF-I), Adm. William Fallon (commander CENTCOM), and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. I'm not sure whether Fallon was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, but both Petraeus and Gates were.

It may or may not work, but it stands a tremendously greater chance than would a mere "surge;" and it was a monumental about-face by the Bush administration. (Thus proving that the president does indeed listen to criticism and take it seriously.)

Once upon a time...

My next point of demur is this sentence from Paul's post: "It is true that the surge is not complete."

Yes, that is correct. But it's roughly like saying "it is true that the 2008 campaign is not complete"... it has barely even begun!

We discussed this point back in April, more than two weeks ago; according to Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, former professor of military history at the the United States Military Academy of West Point and one of the actual creators of the strategy, the "heavy lifting" of the counterinsurgency has not even begun yet. It's scheduled for "late May or June." All we have done so far is prepare the battlefield for counterinsurgency:

Most of the military operations of recent months have been laying the groundwork for clear-and-hold operations that will be the centerpiece of the new plan. Coalition and Iraqi forces have targeted al Qaeda and other Sunni insurgent cells in Baghdad, in their bases around the capital, and in Anbar, Salahaddin, and Diyala provinces. They have established positions throughout Baghdad and swept a number of neighborhoods in a preliminary fashion. They have begun placing concrete barriers around problematic neighborhoods to restrict access and change traffic flow to support future operations. Targeted raids have removed a number of key leaders from the Shiite militias as well, reducing the effectiveness of Sadr's organization, which was already harmed by his hasty departure for Iran early this year....

Major clear-and-hold operations are scheduled to begin in late May or June, and will take weeks to complete, area by area. After that, it may be many more weeks before their success at establishing security can be judged.

In fact, we just conducted a successful series of raids in Baghdad and north of the capital against al-Qaeda car-bomb "factories." Naturally, the headline of the news story is that two car bombs exploded at checkpoints on bridges in Baghdad today... the underlying message from AP being, see? All for nought... nothing has changed!

I think this is the message Paul is channeling. But at least in this story, it's absurd: the car bombs detonated today were obviously not assembled today; they were, in fact, products from some days ago of exactly the sort of "factories" that we smashed in the raids today.

Clearly a raid cannot unmake a VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) that was already assembled and distributed to suicide bombers; the object is to make future VBIEDs harder and harder to manufacture. But again, this is all preliminary to the actual counterinsurgency strategy.

Preassessing the assessment

For that reason, it is quite frankly absurd to make the prediction Paul made: "It seems at least as likely that what we're seeing now in Baghdad is roughly what we will get during the remainder of the year."

Since we have not actually started the counterinsurgency yet, upon what does Paul base that prediction? He has no data whatsoever of the effect of a strategy which is still in its preliminary, "laying the groundwork" phase.

I almost get the feeling that Paul can't understand why we keep monkeying around with all these preliminary, preparatory operations; why haven't we started the counterinsurgency yet? Why didn't the first new combat brigade to arrive just jump right into it?

Imagine a massive fire at a chemical factory. The initial fire station's trucks arrive. What is the first thing they do?

My many years of research on fire-suppression techniques -- religiously watching every episode of Emergency! when I was a kid -- tell me that upon arrival, Capt. Stanley is certainly not going to immediately order, "All right, everybody, run into the burning building! Don't stop, don't look around, don't make any preparations... just run into the friggin' building!"

This is silly. Before sending anybody into a conflagration, the fire department must carry out a lot of preparations:

  • They must find a hydrant, since the tanks in the engine itself won't be enough;
  • Locate where the fire actually is (there may be more than one flamepoint);
  • Locate critical areas (like petrochemical storage tanks) that they must, at all costs, keep the fire away from;
  • Determine what chemicals are burning and whether an evacuation of nearby residences is needed;
  • Determine whether anybody is trapped inside and needs immediate rescue;
  • Communicate their assessment to the other engine companies arriving and with the fire chief, if he's on his way;
  • Start wetting areas to keep the fire from spreading;
  • Start wetting down possible entrances, so the firemen don't have to literally run through a hundred yards of burning chemicals;
  • And of course, don oxygen tanks and other protective gear.

I'm sure I've missed a number of other steps; but the point stands: You don't simply dart, pell-mell, into a structure fire... there are a number of critical prepatatory tasks to perform first.

To use another analogy that a lawyer would certainly understand, you don't go directly from signing up a client to trying the case in court; you must plan a legal defense or prosecution like a military campaign... and there are a great many preliminary steps to take, from interrogatories to locating witnesses to subpoenaing documents to prepping witnesses to deposing witnesses, and so forth, right up to voir dire -- all before you give your opening statement.

And in each example, during that preparation time, someone not intimately familiar with the process might complain that nothing is getting accomlished:

Look, the fire still rages, and not a single fireman has even entered the building yet!

Judging from what's happened so far, it seems at least as likely that what we're seeing now in the burning chemical factory is roughly what we will get during the remainder of the day. It's too little too late!

So when should we assess the success?

Let's take Gen. Petraeus at his word when he says that we won't have a clear idea how well the counterinsurgency is working until September, when next the Bush administration returns to Congress for future funding. At that point, the general has promised to return to Congress himself to testify about the strategy: how well it's doing and what we can do to make it succeed even better -- or, if the news is bad, what we can do to extract ourselves with as little damage as possible.

Making offhand predictions today based upon a strategy that has not yet begun is silly; but worse, it's self-destructive and may even become (if the most radical Democrats have their way) a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I can understand why Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 95%) and Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 95%) would do such a thing: It's good for their political prospects in 2008 -- or so they imagine (though I think they're horribly mistaken about that).

But it's difficult to explain why patriotic, America-loving, conservative bloggers follow the lead of the Washington Post's "analysis of the situation on the ground," which appears to be Paul's primary source. For heaven's sake, we know the Post has made itself the enemy of the Bush administration, and in particular, of the war in Iraq; should we listen to "helpful" analysis and advice from those who desperately want to see us fail?

Would Paul Mirengoff accept campaign advice for Republicans -- from Paul Begala and James Carville?

I have the terrible feeling that what we're seeing is a "surge" of traditional -- and unseemly -- Republican despair. The danger is that the Republican anchor of despair has enormous weight, and it can sink a ship of state as thoroughly as the Democratic anchor of defeatism.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 11, 2007, at the time of 5:01 PM

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The following hissed in response by: vnjagvet

Big L:

Your large forked tongue speaketh the truth.

There is much impatience in the commentariat, including the blogosphere. And it is not all from the left of the spectrum.

Impatience seldom wins wars. Especially wars of the unconventional variety.

The election cycle drives impatience in this country. Republicans took a beating in 2006. They don't want a repeat in 2008. The faint of heart, and the impatient are worried about the dropping popular sentiment, without which the war flounders.

But results are what will turn it around. Bush took a risk to make the changes you describe, as he did in beginning the Iraq front on the GWOT. I think the guy has the guts of the burgler, while most of my fellow citizens to my left politically think he is an unprincipled dumbo.

History will let us both know who is right.

The above hissed in response by: vnjagvet [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 11, 2007 5:50 PM

The following hissed in response by: Fritz

Very good Dafydd. To be honest, I'm not sure that the September date everyone talks about is a fair amount of time to see if the new strategy is effective, but it looks like we will be lucky if enough people are willing to wait even that long. I am left wondering if those people think that the Detroit Pistons should have given up and gone home when they were down as much as nineteen points in their game last night? That seems to be the way they are treating the reconstruction of Iraq. In the end I am saddened that many people, such as Mr. Mirengoff, are becoming so discouraged, especially when the stakes are so high. This is not another Vietnam, and the stakes are much higher. In the end we will have to either stop the Jihadists or accept their rule and I don't wish to live under Sharia law. As I see it, if we pull out now and wait until the Jihadists manage to do something bad enough to where we will all stand together to stop them, the cost will be much higher, both to us and to the countries supporting the Jihadists.

The above hissed in response by: Fritz [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 11, 2007 6:19 PM

The following hissed in response by: Roy Lofquist

Dear Dafyyd,

Much is made of the timing. If this is the right strategy why didn't we use it before?

I believe that it was impossible before. The strategy depends entirely on competent Iraqi forces. One need only read T.E. Lawrence to see that creating an effective force with arabs is fiendishly difficult. Israeli military victories were due to arab incompetence as much as Israeli competence. Building a modern army of 200,000 starting from scratch is a heculean task even without the bombs exploding around you and enemy infiltration. I'm sure that given their druthers the military would have liked another year of training. Time and tide... Politics... We can only pray that the Iraqis can cut the mustard.


The above hissed in response by: Roy Lofquist [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 12, 2007 7:49 AM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist


Repeated devastating defeats of the Russian army in World War I led to widespread rioting in the major cities of the Russian Empire and to the overthrow in 1917 of the imperial household. The Communists under Vladimir LENIN seized power soon after and formed the USSR.

Many Americans fell in love with Communism soon after. A few years ago, Workers World (“” now), had a link to what they were “About”, and links to other sites that admitted what they were “About”. Try finding what they are about now.

Basically, they were about stopping Capitalism by taking control of the Public School systems, the MSM, Capitalist Governments, etc. The ‘Seeds of Communism’ that were spread some 90 years ago here in America have become full grown ‘plants’ from other such ‘plants’…so to speak.


Fascism became popular in 1933 Nazi Germany, and many Americans ignored such a threat…whilst many Islamic countries embraced it…even today (see’s ‘sieg heil’ Hitler/‘Roman’ salutes given by young girls in Lebanon recently), Islamism at least seems to embrace Fascism. Heck, Little Green Footballs and Power Line have both linked to Islamic photo’s of Islamic ‘bathing/washing’ areas popping up here in America, even if they have ‘Women Only’ and ‘Men Only’ rules for prayer areas…so to speak of many Americans still ignoring the threats of Fascism.

Soviet war in Afghanistan:

The initial Soviet deployment of the 40th Army in Afghanistan began on December 25, 1979. The final troop withdrawal began on May 15, 1988, and ended on February 15, 1989. Due to the high cost and ultimate futility of this conflict for this Cold War superpower, the Soviet war in Afghanistan has often been referred to as the equivalent of the United States' Vietnam War. It's recognized that the economic costs and military defeat sustained by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was a major contributory factor in the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Islamism is obviously patient…even more so than both Communism and Capitalism combined. One ‘Superpower’ has already fell…sixteen years ago…so to speak of what patience is about.

Persian Gulf War (2 August 1990–28 February 1991):

That one also ended some sixteen years ago, and we ‘thought’ that we had won. Islamists are as patient as Hồ Chí Minh and North Vietnam…probably/perhaps even more so…so to speak.

Dafydd, humble Low and Ignorant Insane swamp hermit me, for one, can understand why Paul Mirengoff posted what he did. Basically, for at least some 90 years, Americans have been ignoring America’s Left, and now it may be too late, even for another plan like Gen. Petraeus' plan. America has no patience when compared to our present Enemy and America needs to be ‘pruned’ before it’s too late. To fight this Enemy, one must be prepared to become like them, and then take a ‘Step Up’. America cries if we waterboard them!!! That’s like 1000 ‘Steps Down’!!!!!!!

Our Enemy has our ‘Number’…simple as that.


The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 12, 2007 8:46 PM

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