A skeptic’s case for the surge

Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution is a fair-minded, good faith critic of the administration’s policy in Iraq and elsewhere. Today, he offers “a skeptic’s case for the surge.” The main component of that defense is the observation that “each main element of the president’s plan has some logic behind it.”
In fact, the logic of surge is sound. Without stability in the capital city, we can’t achieve victory in Iraq. Increasing the level of our forces, along with Iraqi forces, in Baghdad increases the likelihood of achieving stability (critics have persistently attacked the president for not deploying enough troops). Changing the rules of engagement so that we can deal with any and all of the bad guys as needed also increases the likelhood of success. Embedding with Iraqi police forces and maintaining a presence 24/7 is a good idea as well, and is something the Iraq Study Group recommended. Finally, these efforts at local policing should cause ordinary Iraqis to rely less and less on militias and other thugs for protection.
But O’Hanlon’s skepticism is also justified. Will the Iraqi government and its forces actually cooperate to the extent necessary to make this surge work? Even if they do, is it possible to bring down significantly the level of violence in a city as huge and as hostile as Baghdad? Even if we succeed, will our MSM report the success or will it focus on the acts of violence we don’t prevent, thus undermining the political support needed to sustain the surge? And if the surge, which is being viewed as a last role of the dice, is unsuccessful (or is perceived as such), is there any politically sustainable fall-back approach other than quitting and taking a potentially disastrous defeat?


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