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Thread: Could Someone Please Explain the "Surge Strategy" to Me

  1. #21
    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    the term "new strategy" when applied to the "surge" is simply a political term. If memory serves, the administration first annouced an intent to "surge" because it began to believe that more troops were needed to accomplish the mission, i.e. the same mission as before the surge.

    In an effort to paint a different picture of Iraq, and possibly deflect some political heat (you don't hear Bush saying stay the course anymore), this "new strategy" term was applied so that republicans could distance themselves from the fallout that was/is generating. Every wanted change, so change was invented.
    Bingo...I'm in total agreement that the issue has been confused to a large degree, and primarily by the PR folks kicking terms around to see what has the most sticking power.

  2. #22
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    In an effort to paint a different picture of Iraq, and possibly deflect some political heat (you don't hear Bush saying stay the course anymore), this "new strategy" term was applied so that republicans could distance themselves from the fallout that was/is generating. Every wanted change, so change was invented.

    jcustis: Bingo...I'm in total agreement that the issue has been confused to a large degree, and primarily by the PR folks kicking terms around to see what has the most sticking power.
    Agreed. What was tactical level "whack a mole" has become "operational level whack a mole," neither of which constitutes a strategy beyond meeting the immediate demands. Mark O'Neill raised it earlier in this thread; the military/security aspects of the current and previous efforts are the supporting/shaping operations for what must be done at the political and social levels to move forward. If MG Mixson says he cannot maintain the successes he has achieved without a sustained "surge", then without forward political progress we are just marking time.

    At this stage such political progress is very doubtful. Steve Metz posted a quote from Fouad Ajami in which Ajami essentially lamented that naive Americans were somehow taken in by Arabs who had the cheek to act like Arabs. Given that Ajami was born in Arnoun, Lebanon (a small village on the northern slope of the mountain made famous by Chateau Beaufort) and lived there until nearly 18 when he came to the US, Ajami seems disingenuous at best in portraying Americans as naive when he actually argued for the war. But in the quote posted by Steve, Ajami makes some cultural comments that are accurate. He lists "despotism, sectarianism, antimodernism, willful refusal to name things for what they are" as salient issues for the current state of affairs. He does not list tribalism as the hand maiden for Arab sectarianism, at lest in that particular quote and that is a gap of great significance.

    The zero sum game of sectarian and tribal conflict is at play; making progress on the political front means the players would have to agree to sharing victories and splitting costs. The game is simply not played that way. The irony with regards to Ajami is that the only Arab state that has gone beyond the "zero sum" game was post-independence Lebanon with its confessional political system. The interjection of the Palestinians into that delicate mchine destroyed it and the result was the 1975 Civil War, which still echoes today. It is fashionable to look at Saddam as a monster: that is certainly true but he was not an anomaly. He emerged under the conditions of the same zero sum game and he played it to its (his) closing minutes. There are plenty of Iraqis looking to do the same today.

    Best

    Tom

  3. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    Agreed. What was tactical level "whack a mole" has become "operational level whack a mole," neither of which constitutes a strategy beyond meeting the immediate demands. Mark O'Neill raised it earlier in this thread; the military/security aspects of the current and previous efforts are the supporting/shaping operations for what must be done at the political and social levels to move forward. If MG Mixson says he cannot maintain the successes he has achieved without a sustained "surge", then without forward political progress we are just marking time.

    At this stage such political progress is very doubtful. Steve Metz posted a quote from Fouad Ajami in which Ajami essentially lamented that naive Americans were somehow taken in by Arabs who had the cheek to act like Arabs. Given that Ajami was born in Arnoun, Lebanon (a small village on the northern slope of the mountain made famous by Chateau Beaufort) and lived there until nearly 18 when he came to the US, Ajami seems disingenuous at best in portraying Americans as naive when he actually argued for the war. But in the quote posted by Steve, Ajami makes some cultural comments that are accurate. He lists "despotism, sectarianism, antimodernism, willful refusal to name things for what they are" as salient issues for the current state of affairs. He does not list tribalism as the hand maiden for Arab sectarianism, at lest in that particular quote and that is a gap of great significance.

    The zero sum game of sectarian and tribal conflict is at play; making progress on the political front means the players would have to agree to sharing victories and splitting costs. The game is simply not played that way. The irony with regards to Ajami is that the only Arab state that has gone beyond the "zero sum" game was post-independence Lebanon with its confessional political system. The interjection of the Palestinians into that delicate mchine destroyed it and the result was the 1975 Civil War, which still echoes today. It is fashionable to look at Saddam as a monster: that is certainly true but he was not an anomaly. He emerged under the conditions of the same zero sum game and he played it to its (his) closing minutes. There are plenty of Iraqis looking to do the same today.

    Best

    Tom
    Great post, and with the others discussing "Strategy" vs Operational. Alot of this reminds me of Hew Strachan's 2005 Article in Survival discussing "The Lost Meaning of Strategy" I think a section from the introduction is worth repeating.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hew Strachan
    The word ‘strategy’ has acquired a universality which has robbed it of meaning, and left it only with banalities. Governments have strategies to tackle the problems of education, public health, pensions and inner-city housing. Advertising companies have strategies to sell cosmetics or clothes. Strategic studies flourish more verdantly in schools of business studies than in departments of international relations. Airport bookstalls carry serried ranks of paper- backs reworking Sun Tzu’s The Art of War... But strategic studies are not business studies, nor is strategy – despite the beliefs of George Bush and Jack Straw to the contrary – a synonym for policy.

    Just to add a bit of it, clearly this is a political problem, and to be perfectly frank I think many policymakers have missed the point, as was alluded to by others and the Strachan quote above. The problem at root isn't the insurgents, they are only a symptom of a much larger and fundamental problem. Part of it is exactly what Tom pointed out, that you have violent sectarianism.

    Super-imposed above this however is the political system, the one that is supposed to represent the wishes of the Iraqi people. However at this time it is not seen to be legitimate by most of the Sunnis in the population. Attempting to work within that structure is not likely to achieve a lasting peace because of that fact. We just have to look at the results of the 2005 constitutional referendum to see that. When most of the Sunni districts return a substantial no vote (Anbar was approximately 95% against), you know that a segment of the population does not see the structure as being legitimate.

    The Surge might be effective at clearing AQ out of the region and the most radical elements of the militias, but in the end we've not addressed the underlying cause of their grievances, which is an unequal political system. The electorial system is not only perceived to be unequal, the state itself is being used to leverage against the Sunni population. Right now, we're doing the dirty work for the Shia, clearing out their major opponents while they sit back and watch. However, its not going to end the violence. Sure Sunni groups are supporting the US efforts right now, but much of that is Tactical positioning for the later fight. The 1920 Brigade is not going to support the government's efforts, its only interested in consolidating its power in its base areas which it can use for later. When the Surge ends, Sunnis will fill right back in, maybe in different groups, but largely fighting for the same cause. To "win," whatever that might entail, we need to tear down the political structure as is and rebuild it. And that is an impossibility given our present political realities both in Iraq and the West.

    Unfortunately, I think Tom's point that these two groups are locked in an zero-sum battle is all too true, and the time has past for reconciliation. What makes it far more difficult now is that the educated middle class, (something that was a staple of Iraqi society and a key moderating element) has all but deserted Iraq. Nir Rosen wrote an excellent article discussing this in the NYT magazine in May (sorry subscription.)What is increasingly left are people who are more inclined towards incitement and radicalization, who think that violence is the way to go.

    It almost harkens back to Luttwak's 1999 Foreign Affairs Article "Give War a Chance" because I don't see any other path for this to go. The structure at present is untenable, and needs to be torn down or undergo extensive reform. However the Shia who have retrenched their power in the state will never except this. We then face the prospect of fighting the Shia majority. Maybe pullout is the only option, and if this is the way to go, Steve Simon and Ray Takeyh’s piece in the WP is instructive
    Last edited by Mooks; 07-07-2007 at 07:59 PM. Reason: Touch ups

  4. #24
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    I’d like to add my two cents’ worth to this debate if I may. At the risk of sounding overly pedantic, it seems to me that lost amid the din of the highly charged debates and arguments about “the surge” (whatever that term means) as well as discussions about other so-called “strategic options” is perhaps the most fundamental element of strategy itself. The one question that requires an answer in order to make the strategic debate relevant essentially has not been answered by our national leadership: What is the U.S. desired end state in Iraq? In other words, what are the U.S. political goals for Iraq? In an attempt to answer this question in late 2005, the White House published the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq (NSVI), and since publication, no other official documents have countermanded the goals stated in that document. Specifically, the NSVI identified three principal objectives:

    • Short Term: Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists, meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions, and standing up security forces.
    • Medium Term: Iraq is in the lead defeating terrorists and providing its own security with a fully constitutional government in place, and on its way to achieving its economic potential.
    • Longer Term: Iraq is peaceful, united, stable, and secure, well integrated into the international community, and a full partner in the global war on terrorism.

    In the 20 months since the release of the NSVI, the fundamental question that requires formal answering by our national leadership is whether or not these ends are still valid. Is it still in the United States’ best interests to commit manpower, treasure, and resources toward the attainment of these specific objectives? Unfortunately, such questions have been overlooked or at least obscured as the nation plods along in search of a “strategy” that will enable American forces to ultimately be extricated from Iraq.

    While a national debate regarding strategic direction is certainly required—and long overdue—such a debate cannot really exist without first conducting serious discussions regarding the desired end state vis à vis Iraq. All talk of strategic options prior to the determination of political goals is not only premature; it is counterproductive. Any meaningful debate of strategy is essentially amorphous since there is nothing of substance on which it can adequately focus. Current discussions regarding proposed strategic directions are only appropriate if the political aims as identified in the White House’s NSVI remain unchanged. However, discussions regarding the continued viability of those objectives have been completely overshadowed by discourse that has focused almost exclusively on strategy.

    Focusing the discussion principally on strategy metaphorically puts the cart before the horse. Strategy without an aiming point represented by a defined end state is doomed to drift aimlessly. Establishing a clearly defined set of political goals up front, though, enables the formulation of an executable strategy and the identification of requisite means designed to support that strategy. Success hinges on that critical first step—determination of end state. Only once that determination is accomplished can a meaningful strategy and the allocation of appropriate resources to achieve that strategy occur. The process conceptually is rather simple—ends must first be determined, a strategy is then developed, and finally, appropriate means to conduct that strategy to achieve the desired ends are identified and allocated. If the will to commit the required means necessary to accomplish the stated ends does not exist, then the stated ends must be adjusted accordingly. Iraq is proving that theory and execution often are not cooperative partners, though, as the stated ends have not corresponded to the actual means committed, and no subsequent adjustment of ends has been formally conducted. That ends-means mismatch has in turn posed predictable challenges to the development of a coherent strategy vis-à-vis Iraq.

  5. #25
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    While a national debate regarding strategic direction is certainly required—and long overdue—such a debate cannot really exist without first conducting serious discussions regarding the desired end state vis à vis Iraq. All talk of strategic options prior to the determination of political goals is not only premature; it is counterproductive. Any meaningful debate of strategy is essentially amorphous since there is nothing of substance on which it can adequately focus. Current discussions regarding proposed strategic directions are only appropriate if the political aims as identified in the White House’s NSVI remain unchanged. However, discussions regarding the continued viability of those objectives have been completely overshadowed by discourse that has focused almost exclusively on strategy.
    Not pedantic at all. The issue of objective or end state has always been at the forefront. The difficulty of course is that the end state has shifted repeatedly--and not in a linear fashion. WMD containment to democracy is quantum. The problem in the current debate is that we are trying to generate a strategy that rests on a fundamental assumption: that the Iraqis are a people who are willing to set aside sectarian and tribal goals and motivations in favor of greater national objectives, like those you listed in your post. So far that assumption has proved wishful.

    Best

    Tom

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