Saturday, January 17, 2009

Look What You Can Make From A Sow's Ear!


Imagine a football game, three seconds left, the team with possession trails by five points, they're on their own forty yard line... What do they do? Even people who aren't acquainted with football knows what comes next - the "Hail Mary pass". So imagine the next day you open the sports page and read something like this:
If the abysmal performance of his team through most of the season represents a massive stain on the coach's record, his decision to call for a "Hail Mary pass" now looks like his finest hour. Given the mood in the stadium and the team's fan base as a whole, it would have been far easier to do the opposite. Politically, the coach took the path of most resistance. He endured an avalanche of scorn, and now he has been vindicated. He was not only right; he was courageous.
You would recognize that for what it is: horse puckey. The coach's only other choice was to admit defeat. So how is this different:
But if Iraq overall represents a massive stain on Bush's record, his decision to increase America's troop presence in late 2006 now looks like his finest hour. Given the mood in Washington and the country as a whole, it would have been far easier to do the opposite. Politically, Bush took the path of most resistance. He endured an avalanche of scorn, and now he has been vindicated. He was not only right; he was courageous.
There's no courage in throwing a Hail Mary. It's an act of desperation. In Bush's case, given the choice between admitting his failures and making a desperate last effort to redeem himself, there was never a chance that he would go on camera and tell the American people, honestly and candidly, of the mess he made and the odds against success.

Like William Kristol, Peter Beinart points to the Anbar Awakening as evidence of the success of the surge, despite the fact that it preceded the surge. At least Beinart adds this:
Is the surge solely responsible for the turnaround? Of course not. Al-Qaeda alienated the Sunni tribes; Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army decided to stand down; the United States assassinated key insurgent and militia leaders, all of which mattered as much if not more than the increase in U.S. troops. And the decline in violence isn't necessarily permanent. Iraq watchers warn that communal distrust remains high; if someone strikes a match, civil war could again rage out of control.
In other words, we're judging the surge solely by the question of whether it has been a military success. We're attributing successes to the surge that are, in fact, wholly or partially attributable to other factors or changes in strategy. And we're completely ignoring G.W.'s own criteria for whether or not the surge is a success - political progress, made possible by a reduction in violence.
The surge has been a success militarily, but it has not accomplished its goals. To quote, you know, the President:
A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.
By what measure beyond the military - something the President told us up-front was an inadequate measure - is the Surge a success?
To me, when the surge was announced, the largest questions were "is it big enough to suppress the violence", and "is it too little, too late?" On the first question, the answer appears to be that in the full context of Iraq - other changes in leadership and strategy, the Anbar Awakening, physical separation of warring sects, etc. - it was sufficient in size to help reduce and control violence. But I can't applaud Bush as having formed a great or brave strategy in sending what a potentially insufficient number of troops as he had no real choice - our armed forces are overextended, and many are concerned that our commitments in Iraq have jeopardized our progress and chances of success in Afghanistan. As for the political progress that Bush told us is the true measure of success.... Well, let's let's revisit Beinart's answer:
Iraq watchers warn that communal distrust remains high; if someone strikes a match, civil war could again rage out of control.
Ouch. I'm happy to agree with General Petraeus, that the surge has helped suppress violence and create opportunity for political progress. But unless and until that political progress occurs, it's premature to call the surge a success.

Here, Beinart's every bit the football fan, judging decisions not by the thought or strategy that went into them, but by the final score. He has concluded that the surge worked, so everybody should judge it by the outcome, admit that G.W. showed good judgment and that it was a great success. But at the same time he suggests that "Iraq overall represents a massive stain on Bush's record". If five, ten, twenty, fifty years from now Iraq is a peaceful, progressive democracy, based on the same kind of outcome-driven measure, is Beinart going to be telling us that the decision to invade Iraq "now looks like his finest hour"?

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