May 17, 2009

Surging and Awakening

In the geekish circles in which I run, this Dexter Filkins review of The Gamble in The New Republic this week has generated some heated opinions. On the one hand, reading this review on the plane ride home this past weekend, I quite enjoyed it -- mainly for the questions it raises at the end about Afghanistan. On the other hand, I can understand why passages like this one have really made some people who fought in Iraq in that year or two before the Surge of 2007 quite angry:

In the face of all this, the Americans, most crucially, decided to back away. From the summer of 2004 onward, the objective of the American strategy, which was formulated by General John Abizaid and General George Casey, was less the defeat of the Sunni insurgency than the training and equipping of the Iraqis to fight it for them. "As they stand up, we'll stand down," President Bush was fond of saying. By the middle of 2006, American soldiers were congregating, or more precisely isolating themselves, on large bases, with Burger Kings and Baskin-Robbins ice cream shops, only occasionally venturing into Iraq. Meanwhile the Iraqi security forces had grown in quantity if not in quality, and were taking over larger and larger pieces of the war. It was difficult, in the summer of 2006, to drive around Baghdad and find any American soldiers at all.

Reading that paragraph, one gets a sense for why people like Celeste Ward and Gian Gentile find descriptions of Iraq prior to the ascension of David Petraeus to commander there to be so galling. "So, uh, we were just stuffing our faces with ice cream?" a veteran of Iraq in 2006 might ask. Check out the casualty counts of U.S. soldiers in Iraq in 2006 and you'll discover they were not all killed in the line at Burger King.

But read the review and let me know what you think. Bonus points go to those readers who served in Iraq in 2005 or 2006 and want to weigh in.