What constitutes a successful surge? Part Two

Diana West has responded to my post in which I disagreed with her argument that the surge in Iraq was a failure. Diana cites additional grievances against the current government of Iraq, but does not address what I think is the key issue in assessing the surge: would we have been better off if we had not surged in 2007?
Answering this question requires speculation, of course, but I’m convinced that we’re better off for having surged. Had we not done so, we probably would have suffered a military defeat at the hands of al Qaeda and others — a defeat far more consequential than the one in Somalia that was so useful a recruiting tool for al Qaeda during the 1990s.
In addition, al Qaeda would probably be thriving in Anbar province and other areas of Iraq to the point that it might well have a major base of operations, as it did in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. Furthermore, the level of violence in Iraq would probably would be much closer to pre-surge levels than to the dramatically lower levels we see now (Diana says bombs are still going off, but doesn’t deny that violence has diminished substantially). It’s also quite possible that Iraq would have disintegrated and that portions of the South would be controlled by Iran.
Finally, in the absence of a surge virtually all the current problems Diana cites would exist and in some cases would be more severe.
I addressed some of these problems in my first post, arguing that solving them wasn’t the goal of the surge. The same is true (with one exception discussed in the next paragraph) of the additional problems Diana cites. For example, she points out that Iraq is an enemy of Israel and has entered into oil deals with Russia and China. However, the surge wasn’t intended to prevent these outcomes.
By contrast, it was hoped that the surge would give us an ally in the war on terror. Diana says it failed to achieve this. Time will tell whether and to what extent Iraq helps us fight terrorists. However, it’s probably a safe bet that Iraq will help us against terrorists it doesn’t like, as it already has done with al Qaeda. It’s also a safe bet that, like many or even most countries, it won’t lift a finger to help us against those nations or elements the government likes and/or fears. Iran comes to mind.
But even if Iraq never does anything to help us fight any terrorist, we’re better off in this respect for having toppled Saddam Hussein, who was willing to engage terrorists of all stripes and actively sponsored some of them. And we’re better off for having subsequently ensured through the surge that portions of Iraq did not become bases for terrorist activity against U.S. interests.
Turning to Afghanistan, where the value of surges is of more than academic interest, Diana criticizes me for arguing in favor of dealing al Qaeda a “serious blow” there. “Knock-out punches (and no nation building).or nothing,” she insists.
Here I think Diana misunderstands the nature of the fight against al Qaeda. There will be no knock-out punches against a loosely knit outfit that can reconstitute itself in a series of caves or in some other nation entirely. But in my view, that’s no justification for ceding large amounts of territory to al Qaeda, territory it can use (as it has) to launch attacks all over the world. Far better to keep them in caves or on the run; reckless not to do so.
Diana warns against “lowering the bar” when it comes to evaluating surges. In my view, as I’ve said, the proper test isn’t so much a “bar” as it is a comparison of probable outcomes. In any event, I think Diana is unduly raising the bar by demanding “knock-out punches or nothing,” and by citing “bombings” in Iraq, or illiberalism there, as evidence of the surge’s failure.

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