Matthew Yglesias asks a good question about Iraq
Excerpt from “Declaring Victory” by Matthew Yglesias (somewhat mis-titled, as his subject is the surge — about progress, not overall victory)
… The weird thing about the surge is that its failure has been much more unambiguous. The theory behind the surge was clear. Some people said more troops would bring more security to Iraq. Critics of that idea noted that sending more troops would be logistically unsustainable. Surge theorists posited that a temporary increase in force levels would create a temporary increase in security that would open window of opportunity for political reconciliation that would allow for a permanent increase in security. So the surge was implemented.
As of September, the surge had failed to generate the political reconciliation that would allow for a permanent increase in security. Surge supporters told skeptics we had to give it more time. Three months later, the surge has still failed to generate the political reconciliation that would allow for a permanent increase in security.
Now we’re near the point of de-surging — the window is closing rapidly and nobody thinks the opportunity will be seized. And yet surge fans are declaring victory. It’s doesn’t make sense. The surge’s architects laid out admirably clear goals for it. Laid them out and unambiguously failed to meet them.
Matthew Yglesias states this well. Why do so many find this controversial? Those declaring the “surge” a success tend to ignore the actual benfits to the US – as if military operations were self-sufficient, conducted for their own sake and not to obtain larger political results. They also tend to ignore the costs (something I will discuss another day).
Comment by Jake H., also from Yglesias site:
I don’t think “moving the goalposts” is an appropriate metaphor to apply to neocon behavior anymore. This isn’t football or soccer anymore, it’s Calvinball. It’s a sport played completely, entirely, blissfully in the present, with no goals, no score kept, no end in sight. Every day we win the war on terror anew, but every day is more dangerous than every day before it and more war is always required.
A note to remember when reading the following goal statements: in November 2005 our enemy in Iraq was still described as primarily Sunni insurgents, not Al Qaeda. The focus of attention, at least in public statements, shifted to Al Qaeda In Iraq only in early 2007 (see this NY Times article; this blognote has more links).
This is not difficult to assess. The US government has been commendably explicit about our goals. Below are texts of the President’s victory conditions and the legislated “Benchmarks.” At the end are links to two of my articles about this.
Victory In Iraq Defined, part of Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq (November 2005):
Helping the Iraqi People Defeat the Terrorists and Build an Inclusive Democratic State
As the central front in the global war on terror, success in Iraq is an essential element in the long war against the ideology that breeds international terrorism. Unlike past wars, however, victory in Iraq will not come in the form of an enemy’s surrender, or be signaled by a single particular event — there will be no Battleship Missouri, no Appomattox. The ultimate victory will be achieved in stages, and we expect:
In the short term:
An Iraq that is making steady progress in fighting terrorists and neutralizing the insurgency, meeting political milestones; building democratic institutions; standing up robust security forces to gather intelligence, destroy terrorist networks, and maintain security; and tackling key economic reforms to lay the foundation for a sound economy.
In the medium term:
An Iraq that is in the lead defeating terrorists and insurgents and providing its own security, with a constitutional, elected government in place, providing an inspiring example to reformers in the region, and well on its way to achieving its economic potential.
In the longer term:
- An Iraq that has defeated the terrorists and neutralized the insurgency.
- An Iraq that is peaceful, united, stable, democratic, and secure, where Iraqis have the institutions and resources they need to govern themselves justly and provide security for their country.
- An Iraq that is a partner in the global war on terror and the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, integrated into the international community, an engine for regional economic growth, and proving the fruits of democratic governance to the region.
The Congressional benchmarks:
Here is the President’s 14 September Benchmark Assessment Report. It states
Today’s report is based on data available as of September 1 and reflects that the Iraqis have made satisfactory progress since January 2007 on 9 benchmarks, including on de-Ba’athification reform which in July was assessed as unsatisfactory. In addition, while the current report assesses 7 benchmarks as not satisfactory, this includes 4 benchmarks with progress on some aspects while not on others. In both the July report and today’s assessment, 2 benchmarks are not rated because the necessary preconditions are not yet present.
As of August 30, 2007, the Iraqi government met 3, partially met 4, and did not meet 11 of its 18 benchmarks. Overall, key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds.
The 18 benchmarks:
Forming a Constitutional Review Committee and then completing the constitutional review.
Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Ba’athification.
Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources of the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner.
Enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions.
Enacting and implementing legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections.
Enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty.
Enacting and implementing legislation establishing strong militia disarmament program to ensure that such security forces are accountable only to the central government and loyal to the Constitution of Iraq.
Establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad security plan.
Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.
Providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions, in consultation with U.S. commanders, without political intervention, to include the authority to pursue all extremists, including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.
Ensuring that the Iraqi security forces are providing even-handed enforcement of the law.
Ensuring that, according to President Bush, Prime Minister Maliki said ‘‘the Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation.”
Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security.
Establishing all of the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad.
Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces’ units capable of operating independently.
Ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.
Allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis.
Ensuring that Iraq’s political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the Iraqi security forces.
Previous articles about the “surge”