Power surge
A call for optimism from a pessimist
There are actually two Alexes. The first is a technologist who believes--genuinely--in a Utopian future where international conflict is a thing for the history books, teleportation has solved our dependence on fossil fuels, and holodecks allow us to... ah, let's not go there. The second Alex has worked retail and thus has, as Patrick Bateman would call it, a far more bitter, cynical sense of humour.

Who would have thought, a year and a half ago, that Iraq would fail to be a coup for the DNC going into November? Popular opposition to the was was high, politicians and pundits alike remained sceptical of our military strategy on the ground, and sectarian violence meant every new day brought more reports of bombings, beheadings, and body bags. So who would've thought that?

Well, uh, me. The second Alex.

I wasn't a political blogger mostly a year ago, but people who know me know that I have held faith in the success of the American military mission in Iraq since soon after it began. In coffee house discussions with my circle of friends, I defended the "surge" strategy when it began to show results, against the then-prevailing "yeah, but will it stick?" mentality. (the last of the troops deployed as part of the surge were withdrawn a month ago)

When the Sunni Awakening turned the tide of Iraqi sectarianism back towards a semblance of peace and stability, I learned that the term was still largely unheard of in the US--the mainstream media didn't start reporting it until quite recently, although it is an older phenomenon. (it's only now beginning to get the credit it deserves for turning the situation around)

And when Iraqi security forces waged their spring offensives against Muqtada al-Sadr, I was the one among my friends who pointed out that it was a triumph of the Iraqi/Coalition army--standing in opposition to a media that somehow managed to portray it as a victory for the Sadrists. (Sadr, who was forced to declare a cease-fire then, has since announced intentions to demilitarise his now roundly unpopular militia)

Was I blessed with some kind of amazing prescience? Of course not. I'm not very bright. I didn't think Americans would give Bush a second term, for instance. But I realised that the picture that was being painted of the situation in Iraq was at best skewed and at worst completely FUBAR. Now the op-eds in major publications are changing their tune--the Washington Post published one yesterday entitled, simply, "How the Surge Worked". Hey guys! Where were you a year ago?

Well, in January, 2007 the Post was running an article saying "Critics say 'surge' is more of the same" backed with an AP editorial essentially saying the same thing: that we'd seen it all before and that this was simply coming too late to make a difference. And the Gate, representative and not alone in this sort of language, said this:

Like the big push of the Somme, the big push in Iraq is a reapplication of tactics that have already proven a calamitous failure. As the outspoken retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency, puts it, it's like finding yourself in a hole and then digging deeper. Every piece of evidence from nearly four bloody years makes clear that Sunnis and Shiites alike are driven to rage by the very presence of American soldiers walking Iraqi streets, barging into Iraqi homes and arresting or killing people who may or may not be insurgents. [...] As sociologist Michael Schwartz explained the matter recently, a previous joint U.S.-Iraqi counterinsurgency drive in Baghdad, of exactly the type now being planned, actually increased civilian casualties.

— The SF Gate
01/21/2007


At its core opposition to the Iraq war when the surge started kind of went like this:
1. "I really would like the surge to work, but I think it's too little, too late". (guarded support)
2. "The surge isn't enough; Iraq needs radical, systemic changes that the Coalition can't provide." (skepticism)
3. "The War represents another head of the hydra of American hegemony. [I support the troops but] I hope the surge fails." (wholesale opposition)

I believe most figures on the political left would like to marginalise the opinions of the last group, and realistically, I agree with them. These people--who do exist; you can judge them by the signs they carry at rallies--are a lost and hopeless cause, ideologues who are too sold on the evil of the concept to support its success at any stage.

The second group represents the kind of person I would be were I an antiwar person, bitter curmudgeons who have discovered that by shifting the goalposts, you can constantly remain opposed to something while looking at least nominally objective. So I can admire their moxy. These are the people who were among the first to criticise Rumsfeld for not committing sufficient troops, who probably still bitch about the Iraqis not greeting us with flowers at every opportunity, and who were convinced from the outset that the surge was probably going to fail.

Since it became clear that it was not failing about six months ago, they've moved the posts back to begin attacking the Iraqi government instead on the more nebulous grounds that it needs reformation and "political stability," which appears to be the new talking point (admittedly there was some of this back when the surge started, although news reports at the time make it clear that the basic idea--the "strategery", a term that comes up often since many people appear unable to criticise the surge without making fun of the president--was in at least as much doubt).

Aside: I think these were the ones referring to Iraq as being in a state of civil war. Ah! There's a term we haven't heard for awhile. In 2006 one newspaper led by asking what to do in "an Iraqi civil war--which is precisely what we now confront" (the, uh, the Washington Post, in case you're wondering) and in March 2007 the New York Times ran a special entitled, simply, "Iraq's Civil War". When the term is brought up today, a Lexis-Nexis search reveals, it's in terms of people saying that Iraq was just on the brink of civil war back then. Oh! Well, thank you. It's good to have this clarifying point now, since it doesn't exactly mesh with the wealth of people then saying we'd already passed the precipice.

So. I don't know. These people might be lost too, though at heart they're mostly reasonable. My gut feeling is that they're split between legitimate sceptics and people who are against the war on principle and just using scepticism as a cover. The latter folks are bit more irritating because they're also a bit intractable, though when the Iraqi government demonstrates its stability suitably to the rest of us I suppose it will be interesting to see what the next objection is.

Either way, most of us fall into category uno, above, people who may or may not agree with the reasons for going to war in Iraq in the first place, but in the perfect world would like to see it transformed into a shining city on a hill. People who with good cause wondered why sending more troops would transform Iraq when sending them to begin with only fucked things up more. People who want victory, but aren't sure they're willing to foot the bill. These are the people who are liable to be swayed by the new news coverage. These are also the people presidential hopefuls are going to be courting.

In this case, I'll take the Washington Post (well their current view anyway) one step further. My roommate is of the opinion that Sen. Obama's decision to drop his opposition to offshore drilling is emblematic of the senator's willingness to compromise for the sake of avoiding partisan politics, rather than an instance of kowtowing to the will of the mob. I hope he's right, because we need a president with strength of will rather than clarity of public opinion. Whoever holds the office in the next presidential term will help to make the decisions that lead us to victory or defeat in Iraq--these options are stark, mutually exclusive, and unambiguous. Neither is guaranteed. Either is a real possibility, with real, long term consequences.

Americans, you've been given a choice: make it wisely. Our 21st century is on the line.

-Alex
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