-- Carl von Clausewitz
When the so-called "surge" strategy first came to our attention In January 2007, the administration and the Pentagon told us its purpose would be to provide sufficient security for a political reconciliation to take place--a political reconciliation in Iraq, that is. It was never meant to arrive at a truly bi-partisan policy solution between America's executive and legislative branches of government. Its purpose was to continue Mr. Bush's war despite domestic political opposition to it, and so far, by that measure of effectiveness, it's been a resounding success.
By the time the surge was launched, we'd already been told there was no "purely military" situation in Iraq. In truth, there is no purely military situation to any war. As Clausewitz tells us, "the only source of war is politics" and "no major proposal required for war can be worked out in ignorance of political factors." Moreover, Clausewitz reminds us that the political objective will determine "both the military objective to be reached and the amount of effort it requires."
The administration and its generals may have had these Clausewitzean tenets in mind when they began to emphasize political solutions. Then again, they may have figured that talk of a military solution would be hard to sell, seeing as how four years and multiple prior "surges" into the Iraq conflict the world's best-trained, best-equipped armed force was nowhere near bringing the war to a favorable conclusion.
The problem now for the administration is that the longer the surge has dragged on, the more remote the prospects of a political solution in Iraq have become. The mid-July surge progress report stated Iraq's government had only achieved eight of its 18 assigned benchmarks. The White House tried to spin the news into a bolt of Egyptian cotton by boasting that Iraq had achieved nearly half of its requirements, but that canard went down in flames in early August when nearly a dozen Shiite and Sunni ministers waltzed out of Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki's cabinet.
After that, not surprisingly, the administration's echo chamberlains began to suggest that those darn old political benchmarks probably weren't the best way to measure the surge's success any old how, but that dodge went over like a lead zeppelin as well.
From Bad to Worse
This week U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker described Iraq's progress "extremely disappointing." Senators Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and John Warner (R-Virginia), chairman and former chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee did Crocker one better. After a two-day visit to Iraq, they released a joint statement that said in part:
While we believe that the “surge” is having measurable results, and has provided a degree of “breathing space” for Iraqi politicians to make the political compromises which are essential for a political solution in Iraq, we are not optimistic about the prospects for those compromises.
Levin later dusted off the sugar coat when he told reporters "I hope the parliament will vote the Maliki government out of office."
Mr. Bush made a confusing series of statements in response to Levin's remark that seemingly alternated between endorsing Maliki and running him over with a tractor, but it really doesn't matter what Bush says any more because by now everybody who's right in the head knows that Bush isn't.
Almost everybody also knows there's no political solution to be had in Iraq, including what few members of the administration are still right in their heads. That's why the official rhetoric supporting the surge has shifted back to its military successes; but that's not exactly right-in-the-head thinking either. Many observers question how much of this vaunted military progress is genuine and how much of it is public relations manipulation. Here's what seven non-commissioned officers of the 82nd Airborne Division finishing up a 15 month tour in Iraq had to say on the subject in a recent New York Times editorial:
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere…
…We operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear…
…The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security.
In light of this, we should perhaps take claims of military progress as seriously as we're supposed to take The Daily Show's Operation Silent Thunder spoof.
But even if we are making genuine military progress in Iraq, it's largely meaningless. I don't know who first said "you can win a thousand battles but still lose the war," but as adages go, that one's as good as it gets. In war, especially at this especially at this point in this war, military success is of no use without a political solution.
One, Two, Three: What Are We Fighting For?
During a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Wednesday, Mr. Bush compared Iraq to Vietnam. Many wonder why he'd do such a seemingly self-defeating thing, but the answer is relatively simple. He's trying to guilt trip the country into staying behind his woebegone war.
The neoconservative right has spent decades nurturing the myth that we lost the Vietnam War on the home front, and Mr. Bush wants us to think the same sort of thing will happen with Iraq. This is, of course, utter bunker mentality bunk. We didn't lose Vietnam on the home front. We lost it in Vietnam, and we're losing Iraq in Iraq. Walter Cronkite and Jane Fonda and Abbie Hoffman didn't lose Vietnam. Guys like Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara and William Westmoreland and Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger lost Vietnam.
And the guy most responsible for losing in Iraq is the guy who excels at nothing better than blaming everyone else for his abject failures as America's commander in chief.
A National Intelligence Estimate released on Thursday says that Iraq remains "unable to govern" itself and that Maliki's government will become "more precarious" over the next six months to a year.
On the heels of the report's release, John Warner recommended that Mr. Bush set a timetable for troop withdrawal.
Rumor has it that outgoing Joint Chief chairman Peter Pace will advise Mr. Bush to cut the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half.
This all sounds like a deathbed confession sort of thing to me. What, these guys needed one more NIE to finally tell Bush what he needed to hear?
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.