Since I a) have been to Iraq and b) am in the Army, that obviously makes me an expert on counterinsurgency tactics and global strategic issues.
Of course I’m kidding, but because of the aforementioned facts, many people ask my opinion when the subject of the Iraq war arises. Thus, the following thoughts about what has come to be known as the “surge”:
First of all, while the surge is being described as a force increase, it’s really more of a force shuffle (force compression? force interleave?). No troops are being deployed who weren’t already slated to do so; the increase of 21,500 soldiers and Marines is being produced by accelerating the deployment of units already in the pipeline (i.e., the 2nd BCT of the 82nd Airborne) and the extension of units already there (like our own 1st BCT of the 34th Infantry Division). This is really the only effective way that a surge can work, at least in the short term; the logistical realities of moving even a light infantry brigade preclude activation and deployment in any way that might be termed “rapid.”
The next obvious question is, “will the surge be effective?” This is difficult to answer, since it’s not entirely clear what exactly the mission will be. Furthermore, how does one define success? One definition of success might be “the reduction of violence in volatile areas of Baghdad during the surge period.” This mission will almost undoubtedly be successful – implement enough roadblocks and curfews and raids, and the insurgents/terrorists/militamen/et al will certainly either be stopped or will go into hiding. In previous situations where there was an elevated force presence in Baghdad and the city was more or less locked down (for example, during the first elections in January of 2005), the incidence of violence decreased greatly.
The more interesting question, though, is whether the surge will result in any meaningful long-term reduction in violence. It is considerably more difficult to predict this outcome, because there are many factors at work besides the actions of the American military. If I had to guess, however, I would say that the surge will have little impact on the situation in the long term. There are several reasons for this: first, it’s a matter of numbers. Baghdad is a large city with millions of inhabitants, and it seems that to pacify the city without widespread destruction or total martial law, one would need many more soldiers than we are willing to provide. Second, and probably most importantly, I don’t think the surge will be successful (at least in this regard) because in large part, the situation is now out of American hands.
This point deserves its own paragraph. As others have opined, Iraq isn’t necessarily in a state of civil war; however, what exists certainly is a state of internecine conflict that is highly complex in nature, and is widespread. It seems to be a combination of Al Qaida terrorists, foreign fighters from Iran and Syria and elsewhere, sectarian militias, gang members and thugs, and revenge killings. Therefore, the situation is considerably more complex than just “ethno-religious civil war” or “terrorist violence” or “insurgent uprising against American occupation” – it’s a patchwork quilt of groups and interests, all bent on killing for their own reasons. I’m lumbering towards a point here, I swear it – and it’s that while American forces can (conceivably) put a stop to activity of the “terrorist” or “insurgent” ilk, there is probably little that we can do about the sectarian aspects of the violence. A simplistic way to express this notion might be to say that they just need to have it out, to get the violence “out of their system,” that the violence that is now happening is inevitable and endemic to the ethnic, religious, and social fabric of the manufactured nation that we call Iraq.
All of that being said, I still think the surge isn’t a terrible idea. It may not improve the long-term situation; but then again, it might yet. It’s a better option than just leaving, and it sets up a more flexible situation for future operations: if the surge proves effective, troop levels could be increased on a longer-term basis, whereas if it is judged to be ineffective, it provides a push (a surge, if you will) to buy space and time for the stand-up of more Iraqi forces and the eventual drawdown of American ones.