Today’s Washington Post introduces the first in a two part series laboriously headlined, “The Generals’ Insurgency/Odierno’s Surge: The Dissenter Who Changed the War.” Subhead: “As the No. 2 Commander in Iraq, Raymond Odierno Challenged the Military Establishment, Pressing for More Troops and a Long-term Strategy to Guide Them.”
Written by Thomas Ricks, who has followed up his seminal Fiasco (2006) with The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, the WaPo piece today is no doubt part of the ongoing deification of individuals (what happened to the “Petraeus Surge”? the “Bush Surge”? Even “the McCain Surge”?) over a real examination of the trillion-dollar mess we created over there. Aided and abetted by the Washington Post and certain Washington national security journalists who have spent the last year tagging along with the right people in the COIN (Counterinsurgency) set, a narrative is being artfully developed, that — surprise — distills the entire Iraq debacle into one meta theme: how Iraq was tamed by a few exceptional men and women (the number is expanding and contracting all of the time) who were brave enough to pursue the Surge against the rigidity of the Washington establishment. Such hagiography makes for lusty, bold headlines and a useful diversion from hard lessons and emerging truths, one of which is that no one yet has been able to say with any confidence or credibility that the the Surge led to “winning” the war.
What they will say is the Surge put an end — mostly — to American casualties and stabilized the region. Except this is not accepted by anyone as the full story. Even Ricks’ piece today acknowledges this 45 paragraphs and 2,541 words in (just after he describes “Odierno, at 6 feet 5 inches and 245 pounds, is eight inches taller and 90 pounds heavier than Petraeus. Odierno’s most noticeable physical trait is his bulk topped by his bald, bulletlike head. Petraeus is small and slightly buck-toothed. The nimble Petraeus is as much a diplomat as a soldier, while the hulking Odierno always seemed inclined to use firepower.”):
“The change in tactics and the increase in troops were not the only reasons that the security situation in Iraq would improve in the following months. By the time the surge began, the ethnic cleansing by Shiite militias had largely been completed. In addition, Moqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric, declared a cease-fire later in 2007. Most important, Petraeus that year decided to put large parts of the Sunni insurgency on the U.S. payroll, essentially paying them to stop fighting.”
But that is all Ricks’ allows, at least in this installment. He follows this nugget with more palatable post-war tension and drama, which seems to be, “Who Gets the Credit?”
“In a recent interview, Odierno expressed surprise that a book by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, published just as Odierno took command in Iraq, credited White House aides and others in Washington with developing the surge. From Odierno’s perspective — and that of many other senior officers in Iraq — the new strategy had been more or less conceived and executed by himself in Baghdad, with some crucial coaching from (Ret. Gen. Jack) Keane in Washington.
Tomorrow’s installment will explore, according to WaPo, “the battles Petraeus waged in Washington that determined the fate of the surge.”
At least Iraq is back on the front pages.
UPDATE: Tom Ricks on Meet the Press this morning.
While today’s WaPo piece expends a whole lot of energy insinuating that Gen. Odierno can take credit for a successful Surge strategy, the author is on t.v arguing to a vacuously unarmed David Gregory that not only did the Surge “fail” in so many ways, but Iraq remains a very dangerous and fragile place, and that “the generals” may be headed towards “a confrontation” with President Obama over troop withdrawals (seems your gut reax, Dennis, may have been right on track, considering the timeliness of this article on Petraeus’ and Odierno’s preference for an extended 23-month troop withdrawal).
We still have 155,000 troops in Iraq and Ricks’ is already bemoaning their departure — because the situation is much bleaker than the “people back here” know. In fact, the few excerpts from Ricks’ book provided by Politico today indicate the real news is on the ground, not in reliving with tedium two-year old Pentagon skirmishes and engaging in premature hero-worship. Perhaps we might be more informed, Mr. Ricks, if your newspaper stopped providing the leverage Odierno and Petraeus need for their “confrontation” with Obama long enough to deliver the news.