Charles Krauthammer and Michael Kinsley have opposing op-eds in the Washington Post on whether or not the "surge" has been successful.* Without reading the op-eds, you pretty much already know who believes the surge has succeeded and who believes it has failed. But here is a better question: who the hell trusts either of these guys on military strategy and tactics? The Iraq War has forced American newspaper columnists to develop strong opinions about the efficacy of certain tactics and strategies when most of these columnists have no prior experience in the military or education in military affairs.** Alas, the same could be said for U.S. politicians, so we'll call it even.
Abu Muqawama wants to highlight something both of these fellers agree on, though. Krauthammer writes, quoting "Vinegar Joe" Lieberman, that "Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq." Kinsley similarly notes, "If you opposed the surge, you have two choices. One is to admit that you were wrong, wrong wrong. The other is to sound as if you resent all the good news and remain eager for disaster. Too many opponents of the war have chosen option two."
Abu Muqawama agrees. If the Democrats want to sound credible on national security, they have to get real about what the events of 2007 mean for our long-term strategy in Iraq. As Abu Muqawama argued way back in November, the Democrats have room to take a smarter path on both Iraq and the nature of the current fight. And what's more, they can still argue the surge was not a wise idea -- even if it has led to some real successes on the ground -- because it either takes resources away from a more important fight in Afghanistan or because it has not yet led to the kinds of real, hard political successes in Baghdad that we need for our temporary military gains to have been worth it.
Abu Muqawama isn't saying this is what the Democrats should do. Unlike the modern-day Clausewitz and Moltke we're so blessed to have in Krauthammer and Kinsley, Abu Muqawama is a little more cautious about pronouncing the "surge" either a success or failure. But if he had to make a pronouncement right this very minute, he would probably craft his argument along the very unsexy lines of managing ones goals and resources. Given unlimited resources -- i.e. larger ground forces and no war in Afghanistan needing our attention -- a continued robust troop presence in Iraq would make a lot more sense. But seeing as how Iraq is competing for attention with the war in Afghanistan and that the ground forces are bent if not broken, we might have to make a tough call on Iraq this spring and summer. That kind of argument doesn't exactly appeal to either political base, Abu Muqawama understands, but it's probably closer to making sense than anything you'll read from some newspaper columnist who writes about stem cells one week (with absolute certainty) and then writes about presidential politics (with complete authority) and then reveals a previously undiscovered genius for the art of war with a column on Iraq and Afghanistan (which he or she writes, again, absolutely certain of his or her respective position).
Here's something of which Abu Muqawama is absolutely certain, by the way: He is from East Tennessee. And no amount of Georgia lawyerin' is going to change that. Honestly, this is the story that will not end. Much like Argentina vis-a-vis Las Islas Malvinas (aka The Falkland Islands), Georgia needs to understand that sovereignty sometimes rests upon the principles of self-determination and continuous occupation. None of us north of the state line want to be a part of your crappy City-State of Atlanta, and we've been pretty comfortable being Tennesseans since 17-freaking-96. So enough with this land/water grab you're plotting. Enough!
*At times like these, it is necessary to echo David Kilcullen's line, "The surge is not the strategy." On the other hand, at this point, the "surge" has become a kind of shorthand for the population-centric counterinsurgency campaign that is the strategy.
**Yes, this is the second time in three posts that we here at Abu Muqawama have used the word "efficacy" in a post. "Princess" Charlie started it.
UPDATE: Kip here. Kip will always take a wide path when it comes to politics and elections. From a simple factual perspective, it is worth pointing out that last night both Democratic candidates in the debate took exactly the line that AM is suggesting:
1) That the surge has resulted in tactical successes due to the professionalism of our military;
2) That the purpose of the surge, however, was to give room for national political change;
3) That the political change has not taken place--and that when it has taken place it has done so to a far more limited extent than necessary;
4) (Hillary said this part, not Obama) That the US must begin to withdraw so that the Iraqis begin to understand this is not an open-ended commitment and have an incentive to begin to make the changes, and
5) (both candidates again) that the surge is breaking the military and distracting from the war in Afghanistan.
Update II: AM here. This proves Abu Muqawama's theory that Democratic national defense strategists go to this blog for their talking points. Thanks, Kip, for watching the debate so that the rest of us didn't have to.