Appraising “The Surge”


This video above was sent to me this morning in a note from the Washington Post‘s Tom Ricks who said “I particularly like the video they did on one captain’s counterinsurgency campaign.”
tom ricks.jpgI agree with Ricks that Captain Samuel Cook and his Crazyhorse Troop showed remarkable sense in changing what were failing heavy-handed counterinsurgency methods into something far more effective. The opposite of this strategy can easily be seen in two award-winning films that benchmark what was going on before officers like Captain Cook and another favorite of mine, Captain Jon Powers (who recently ran and lost in a Democratic primary for a New York House seat), began changing the game on the front line of contact with Iraq’s civilians. One of these was Michael Tucker’s Gunner Palace and the other Alex Gibney’s Taxi to the Dark Side.
The Surge is still controversial, and I look forward to reading Tom Ricks’ assessment of it — and why the surge, per se, mattered so much. One of the questions I look forward to exploring is why a “change in tactics” (i.e., using any of the sensible tactics Captain Samuel Cook used in the video above) required a greater deployment of troops.
I’m hoping that Ricks breaks down the numbers game and distinguishes it from the change in approach to achieving counter-insurgency objectives.
A two-day, multi-part installment starts today in the Washington Post titled “The Generals’ Insurgency: The Story Behind the U.S. Troop Surge in Iraq” that derive from Tom Ricks’ new book The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008.
— Steve Clemons


21 comments on “Appraising “The Surge”

  1. anna missed says:

    click my name for cont.


  2. anna missed says:

    On Sunday, reporter Tom Ricks was on Face the Nation talking about the surge in Iraq and adding some post provincial election commentary. It was a short interview, the nub of which was that he stated that a) the surge while being successful militarily, had failed politically, and b) that we were only half way through with the entirety of the war. The first statement is latest installment of “winning all the battles, but loosing the war”, I suppose – especially if Clausewitz’ dictum “war is politics by other means” is to have any meaning at all – this is an impossible conclusion to reach. But that is where we are, winning wars while at the same time loosing them. Which takes us to statement b), and the hall of mirrors reflections which evidence themselves in the aftermath of the provincial elections, where Ricks sees the glass (depressingly) half empty. The general western press however, has taken the same election account and sees the glass half full (of champaign!), and as such portrays the elections as a big victory for Iraq, characterizing the results as a triumph of secular nationalism over the sectarian violence that’s plagued the country and the occupation ever since Paul Bremmer’s shiny suits and combat boots hit the tarmac in 2003.


  3. kotzabasis says:

    What vintage of wine were you sipping when you wrote in the ‘darkness’ of your forest the above post?


  4. Don Bacon says:

    from the archives:
    In a rare appearance in Washington, General Casey offered an optimistic but cautious assessment of the situation in Iraq, where he commands more than 140 thousand U.S. and coalition troops. “We’re actually a little further along than I thought we would be at this point.” The general said the Iraqi insurgency is still capable of launching devastating attacks, but he says it is weaker than it was a few months ago thanks to continuing offensive operations by his troops and the new Iraqi army and police. –General George Casey, March 8, 2005


  5. Pacos_gal says:

    Sorry, I mean to say Tom Ricks, not Rich, in the above comments.


  6. Pacos_gal says:

    3 scenarios for removing combat troops from Iraq (16, 19 and 23 months) will be presented to Obama, with Odierno and Petraeus pushing for the 23 month option. This is hardly surprising timeline to anyone who read Tom Rich’s WP articles.


  7. Pacos_gal says:

    I’ve read Tom Rich’s articles in the Washington post, both yesterdays and today and I find it disturbing that consistent in both articles, are the generals going outside the chain of command, straight to the white house, to get what they want. Of course, that does work, when you have a white house in accordance with those wishes.
    I agree with those who have commented, including Steve, in saying that until the troops have been removed, and the “surge” is over, we won’t actually know if it was as much of a factor as has been touted in the media by those who were behind it. I tend to agree, that the bribes paid to those who were killing our soldiers, planting IED’s etc, to not do so, probably had large impact on the “surge’s” working.
    So what happens when we stop paying?
    Now it seems that this is the same scenerio that they think should be played out in Afghanistan, along with paying bribes directly to the tribal leaders. That may even work, but again, what happens when we want to leave and not pay bribes any longer?
    I know, technically, that they are saying we actually will never leave, that we’ll have “support” troops in play in both areas for many years to come. That may be true, but if they discontinue paying the bribes, then you still have the possibility of things falling apart.
    Also, will bribes have as much of an effect in Afghanistan where you are competing with the income of poppy crops. I think it’s a different situation and those who are advocating the same “surge” should be aware of that and react accordingly.


  8. TonyForesta says:

    The Iraq horrorshow was, is, and always will be a crime scene. I realize it is hard for all those good Americans who children and wives and husbands have been slaughtered or maimed in this criminal enterprize to accept and recognize this truth, – but the “ye shall know the truth, the truth shall set you free” Iraq was, is, and always will be all about the oil. Greenspun revealed this untidy truth in 2006, and as painful and horrible as it may be to accept or recognize to those who have paid so terrible a price, – the truth is the truth, and facts are facts, and the Iraq war was a war of choice and wanton profiteering the fascists in the bushgov unholy lurch to commandeer control of Iraq’s oil resources. There is no noble cause. The is no just cause! There is no end to this debacle because the goal is control by bushgov cronies and the oil and energy oligarchs of Iraq’s oil.
    I know how hard this is to accept and am willing to accept the slings and arrows and slime heaped upon me for stating this truth, – but until and unless the American people recognize this reality, this fact, this truth, – we can never make any intelligent decisions about our future and at this point neverending commitments to Iraq.
    Why was the surge rejected in 2003,4,5, and 6 before 3900 US soldiers were killed and 28000 maimed? Ever bother asking that poignant question of are great surge commanders and deciders? Our military, and the bushgov paid insurgents who previously killed our soldiers to quit killing our soldiers and turn their weapons on the other jihadi or al Quaida outsiders in this horrorshow. Call the socalled surge a success if you like, – but a crime is always and only a crime – and there is no prettifying this horrorshow, or painting lipstick on this pig.
    Iraq was, is, and always will be an unjust, unnecessary, illegal war pimped and sold by conjured fictions myths, exaggerations, unvetted, dodgey singlesourced hype, and patent naked OSP/OSI concocted LIES!!!!
    There is no way to right this horrible bloody costly wrong. We can only recognize the crime, manage the future in the best way possible, and pray to the goddess that we are someday forgiven for our grievous sins and crimes.


  9. kotzabasis says:

    All the Sancho Panzas above riding on their donkeys and their Don Quixote, Clemons himself, riding his ‘dishevelled’ steed, are attacking windmills in their intellectually ungracious mean-spirited witless futile attempt to discredit the Surge and deny the great success it was in bringing a reversal of fortune in an almost lost war as a result of the initial strategic mistakes of American strategists, which I identified in a paper of mine back in August 2003.
    The Surge being a STRATEGIC victory for the U.S. not only militarily and politically in Iraq, especially if democracy is consolidated in the country as it seems to be happening with the provincial elections just held, but by blazing its winning footprints on the soil of Iraq is showing the way, and heralding, how the rest of the jihadists, in this borderless war against them, can be defeated.
    Bob Woodward in his book Bush At War depicts with a cascade of clear irrefutable evidence that the sharp instrument that cut the umbilical cord of the insurgents with some of the Iraqi populace was the deployment of Special Forces that ratcheted up “the heavy-handed counterinsurgency methods” by killing or capturing their higher echelons and spreading fear among the ranks of the insurgents. Coupled with these hard measures was the soft embedment and quartering of U.S. troops in the neighbourhoods of Baghdad and other towns where the insurgents were previously residing and dominating. It was these two tactics and the ‘revolt’ of both Sunnis and Shi’tes against al Qaeda and the Madrist militias respectively that stopped the sectarian killings and ushered greater security in Iraq. To say, like Clemons says, that “bribery of local leaders” and a less “heavy-handed’” approach were more significant in subduing the insurgency indicates that he has not read Woodward’s book or if he has he deliberately refuses to acknowledge the factors that led to the defeat of the insurgency as an outcome of his ungracious and partisan lapse to give credit where credit is due, to Bush’s determination to implement the Surge.
    And all the other cackling of the excited and ‘emotional’ geese “how many of my descendants you’ve killed”, will not save the Rome of their intellectual infantilism and political dilettantism, even under the great names of Bertrand Russel and David Hume.


  10. Iraqi-American says:

    Causality, coincidence, slow playing, and the worst president
    As has been recognized in the comments here, the effectiveness
    of the surge in tamping down violence in Iraq had much more to
    do with flipping Sunni insurgents via the Anbar Awakening
    (a.k.a. Sons of Iraq), and the simultaneous reining in of the Shia
    militias by the Maliki government than with increased numbers
    of U.S. troops. That said, there’s no doubt that violence has
    been reduced in Iraq. It’s also a fact that the vast majority of
    Iraqis want a complete end to the occupation, including the
    complete withdrawal of all U.S. military personnel from Iraq, and
    have chosen to work toward that end politically. If, for some
    reason, political means don’t suffice, a reemergence of the Sunni
    insurgency, coupled with the ignition of a Shia insurgency is the
    likely outcome (based on a sane analysis of history.)
    And just to remind readers what non-Bush-apologists think of
    G. Walker B., take a good read:


  11. Don Bacon says:

    It’s necessary to keep the heathen in line, as shown by this video posted by Tom Ricks as “how not to do it.”


  12. Dan Kervick says:

    If the surge did indeed work, then that is to be deplored, because it has then only worked to tie us down to Iraq forever.
    I don’t know how many of our combat troops will be withdrawn, and on what schedule. But I know that a bunch of other troops will be left behind, along with an imperial infrastructure. Our new imperial headquarters – excuse me, “embassy” – in Baghdad is to serve as the anchor for the US flagship presence in the Middle East. We’ll be pouring money down the Iraqi hole for years. Some day, of course, our embassy will be bombed by some rebels, or there will be some incident involving Iran and US patrols or “advisers”, and we’ll be required to send hundreds of thousands of more men and few more trillion dollars to defend our “interests” in our Iraqi outpost of progress.
    We had a political opening to extract ourselves back in 2006, but blew it. Thanks a lot, Washington geniuses! I wonder how many of my descendants you’ve killed.


  13. Hijikata says:

    I would caution equating any subsequent increase in violence, or lack thereof, with the reduction in surge forces and a reflection therein. Whether or not the surge made a difference, as US forces withdraw, what fills the vacuum will be telling, but not necessarily in regards to the effectiveness of the surge.
    Whoever created the idea of cooperation in counterinsurgency rather than the use of brute force was not speaking for the Bush administration… Such a policy is not within the ilk of the Republican armementrium, nor American foriegn policy under their badge.


  14. DonS says:

    “Change in tatics” includes, buying off the Sunnis. For a while. Long enough for government work, ha ha.


  15. ... says:

    it would be hard to openly promote bribery wouldn’t it? that’s one of the skills the bush admin never really got appreciated for!!!!! wonder where else they used it and how it’s holding up????


  16. Steve Clemons says:

    Leo and others — I agree that we need to see what happens when US forces draw down to assess the real success of the so-called surge. I also am skeptical that the reason for the decreased violence was an increase in troops as opposed to skilfully applied bribery of local leaders — and less heavy-handed, disruptive behavior by US military and contractors in chasing down insurgents.
    best, steve


  17. leo says:

    I’ll agree with the first two comments, if violence returns when the surge is reversed then the surge hasn’t succeeded.
    Bush gets out of town feigning success in Iraq, and Obama will be blamed by the dishonest right wing propaganda squads when the truth about the surge is revealed.
    I came away less impressed with Ricks, and Gregory in fact, the whole show seemed designed to lob softballs for the right wing to knock out of the park.


  18. Don Bacon says:

    Call me crazyhorse, but why we are to believe in the veracity of this film produced by Captain Cook which promotes Captain Cook? Now if he were as savvy as General David Petraeus he would have written a self-promotional op-ed for the Washington Post, which Petraeus did in 2004. Petraeus became a media darling and Cook has to be happy with a teaching position.
    It reminds me of a sign I saw over a fried-chicken place in Newfoundland once — if the Colonel had our recipe he’d be a general!
    This is but another in the long, tedious procession of patronizing pronouncements on what is best for Asians.
    Now it is not good for the Christian’s health
    To hustle the Aryan brown,
    For the Christian riles and the Aryan smiles,
    And it weareth the Christian down.
    And the end of the fight
    Is a tombstone white
    With the name of the late deceased
    And the epitaph drear: ‘A fool lies here
    who tried to hustle the East.'”–Rudyard Kipling


  19. DonS says:

    To divorce an appraisal of the “the surge” from political considerations coming out of the Cheney/Bush White House would represent utter credulity and not deserved or, indeed, supported by the evidence of what we know of the war’s inception and misprosecution.
    Whatever the genesis of the surge — a change of tactics (after how many Friedman units), camouflaged by an increase in troop numbers, or whatever, the popular face of the surge was the increase in troop strength.
    Politically, Bush cared only for his reputation, his f**king ‘legacy’. If the tactical change gave him a last best shot at ameliorating the more obvious elements of violence, and US troop loss, so be it. If the surge ‘failed’ it would not be on Bush’s watch.
    The inevitable draw down in troops (which Bush even signed onto before leaving), — threw the conundrum onto Bush’s WH successor. Since Bush’s mantra was always “facts on the ground”, per his commanders, as reason for change, Bush could argue he would have reversed any draw down.
    Talk about ticking time bomb. If the draw down in troops proceeds, and violence escalates, its Obama’s fault (not that I think Bush would have cared if it were McCain; Bush only cares for his own rep). If the draw down in troops proceeds, and the patina of relative stability holds, Bush claims to be a genius, and it’s all been ‘worth it’.
    All political, and all mediated by the lapdog media.


  20. ... says:

    “the surge” idea was a promo campaign to convince the american public the usa was “winning” in iraq… one more pr stunt that puts peoples life’s at risk, except the ones who ought to be put at risk – cheney, rumsfield, but and etc. behind it all…


Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *