Over at progressive defense blog, Democracy Arsenal, Michael Cohen gives a great insight into progressive defense thinking.
He’s passionately arguing that the Surge in Iraq didn’t work…
Well those “other factors” are actually quite important – in fact, they are likely the dominant reasons why violence decreased in Iraq during 2007 and 2008 (and Andrew leaves out a critical one; the sectarian cleansing and subsequent ethnic enclaving that took place in Baghdad in 2007 and 2008, which contributed mightily to the fall in civilian casualties). In other words there were very specific factors that allowed the surge to “succeed” in decreasing sectarian violence in Iraq.
Of course we’ve had the debate many times – but we need to keep having it over and over again; because the debate over the “success” of the surge is, in my view, the single most important foreign policy debate in this country. I make this argument for two reasons.
What are his reasons?
But that notwithstanding, the implications of the pro-surge narrative is far more dangerous because it presupposes that the US “gets” counter-insurgency; that it can be fought in a manner that minimizes civilian casualties (which didn’t happen in Iraq); and above all the US military has the capability to successfully wage counter-insurgencies and that this core competency can be replicated elsewhere . . like Afghanistan.
So when many people say the surge worked in Iraq (and I’m excluding Andrew here); they are implicitly arguing that counter-insurgency worked in Iraq and the policy outcome is that COIN is seen as a feasible means of waging war by the United States. But if in fact Iraq’s emerging political stability was the result of a multitude of indigenous and exogenous factors of which the United States only played one role among many – then one would draw very different conclusions about not only the surge, but also the US military’s effectiveness in waging counter-insurgency. That is a pretty important debate to be having.
So, as I take Cohen’s core point, the Surge can’t have worked in Iraq…because if it did, we’ll think that we can actually fight and win these small wars, and so we’re likely to be too bellicose.
Each of these debates, in their own unique way, has informed the conduct and direction of US military and security policy. Indeed, if there is one lesson to be derived from these “lessons” it is that the historical interpretation of past conflicts can have an enormous impact on future wars.
Indeed, if you need any more evidence look to Afghanistan where the COINdinistas “lessons” from Iraq are being used to support military escalation and a dubious political/military strategy. So yeah, debating the surge matters and all of us who care about national security policy need to keep engaging in this conversation.
You know, I’ve got a lot of issues with what we’re doing in Afghanistan.
In the video I did with Uncle Jimbo, I said (starting about 2:50 in) “…to be honest, if you’re not a heroin addict in New York City, I’m not sure what America’s strategic interest in Afghanistan as a country really would be.” And I meant that, and mean it today.
If my son is fighting only to bring civil society to the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, eff it – bring him home tomorrow. Bring all of our sons and daughters home tomorrow.
I need to hear some kind of broader explanation of what we’re doing there and what we hope to accomplish through our efforts there – not only in Afghanistan itself, but in the region and in the rest of the world.
Craig Mullaney had the beginnings of some answers when I got to talk with him.
And I really do think we’re flunking Harry Summers’ basic test – the reason he gives for our failure in Vietnam:
In Vietnam we also did what we knew. As was said in the introduction to this book, in “logistics and in tactics . . . we succeeded in everything we set out to do.” But, as we have seen, our failure in strategy made these skills irrelevant. This is the lesson we must keep in mind as we look to the future. While we will still need “deeds of valor” and proficiency in logistics and tactics, we must insure that these skills are applied in pursuit of a sound strategy.
Now I’m guessing that Cohen and I will disagree pretty strongly on what that ‘sound strategy’ ought to be. I’m willing to have the debate.
Cohen wants to stack the deck and make sure the debate never happens. He wants to do that by writing history to suit his beliefs about where it should go, as opposed to his observation of where it’s been. That’s an incredibly, insanely bad idea.
Ask Enron, or any one of a host of other failed businesses.