Home/Daniel Larison/By Its Own Standards, The “Surge” Failed

By Its Own Standards, The “Surge” Failed

If you really move the goal posts, defining up “success” as the Surge having not only reduced levels of violence and addressed immediate drivers of conflict but having also managed to fix all the problems in Iraq’s political process, then yeah, it failed. But I don’t recall that ever being the aim of the operation in 2007, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the U.S. military and its friends in the diplomatic corps to be able to settle the political affairs of a host nation. ~Abu Muqawama

That’s a bit of hyperbole on his part, which is necessary for his objection to hold up. No one claims that the “surge” was ever supposed to “fix all the problems in Iraq’s political process.” However, it was supposed to facilitate political reconciliation, and by Bush’s own standards a plan that did not include political reconciliation on major points of contention would not be a successful one. It was not the critics of the plan who put these measures of success in place–it was the authors of the plan.

Fortunately, we don’t need to rely on anyone’s memory for this. We can refer to Bush’s January 10, 2007 address to the nation, and we can review the White House’s “fact sheet” that summarizes the “key elements of the new approach.” In his address, Bush said:

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

What were these? Bush continued:

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq’s provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend 10 billion dollars of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation’s political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq’s constitution.

One or two of these have occurred, but the rest remain elusive. As I wrote in my TAC column in December of 2007:

The Washington Post declared in an editorial, “By every metric used to measure the war, there has been an enormous improvement since January.” Every metric, that is, unless you include measures of rebuilt and functioning infrastructure, political progress, or public opinion—all of which are as vital to success
as physical security.

Some of the political elements that the previous administration considered “key” to their “new approach” were these:

Strengthen the rule of law and combat corruption.

Build on security gains to foster local and national political accommodations.

Make Iraqi institutions even-handed, serving all of Iraq’s communities on an impartial basis.

Is anyone going to argue seriously that there has been significant progress on any of these “key elements”? These are political elements of the plan that the administration itself emphasized as essential, and I don’t think anyone can say that the goals have been reached. There are other political elements listed on the “fact sheet” that are still neglected over three years later. If anyone wants to separate the security gains that have occurred in part because of the additional brigades present in Iraq during 2007-08 from all of the other stated goals of the plan, he is free to do so, but it is absurd to say that it is not credible to judge the success of the plan according to the standards set up by the administration that proposed it.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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