Mac Owens on “The Surge”
The president’s speech was adequate. He said the right things. The question of course is whether or not the plan he outlined can be implemented.
In terms of substance, the president’s plan is not so much a true innovation as an adaptation to the changing circumstances in Iraq. Until February of last year, our operational strategy in Iraq — “clear, hold, build” — seemed to be working, because the main problem in Iraq was the Sunni insurgency centered in al Anbar.
But when Sunni extremists destroyed the Shia mosque in Sammarah, sectarian violence exploded, especially in Baghdad. American and Iraqi troops had to redeploy to confront the new threat, and in doing so, the gains that had been achieved in the war against the Sunni insurgents were lost.
The plan outlined last night is a response to these changing conditions. The main reason for the so-called surge is to provide enough troops to provide security for Baghdad while regaining the initiative against the Sunni in al Anbar.
Will it work? That depends on two factors: the Iraqi government and the Congress. The fact is that most deaths in Iraq today are the result of attacks by Shia militias against Sunnis. But until now, these Shia militias have been off-limits. That has to change, and President Bush put Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on notice that this is the case.
Congress is another matter. The Democrats, who would rather see Bush lose than the United States win, can be expected to make life miserable for the president and his approach. Hopefully, the Democratic majority will limit itself to rhetorical opposition, since they have no alternative except withdrawal and defeat. The worst case would be for the Democrats to do what a precious Democratic majority did: cut off funding for the war and leave the Iraqi people to the tender mercies of both Sunni and Shia extremists.
We can only hope that they will be deterred by the recognition that our abandonment of South Vietnam remains the single most shameful act in the history of U.S. foreign policy. So success will depend on whether or not shame is a part of the makeup of the new congressional majority.