Diana West has written a series of columns arguing that the surge in Iraq was a failure. The issue is more than an academic one because, as Diana notes, many of the arguments in favor of surging in Afghanistan start from the premise that the Iraq surge was successful.
Not so, Diana argues. She points not to military considerations, but rather to a series of unfavorable economic, social and political outcomes. They include the awarding of the best oil contracts to governments other than the U.S., the closing of night clubs, the banning of the sale of alcohol, and other encroachments of Shariah (Islamic law).
I think Diana has misapprehended the purpose of the Iraq surge. Our goal, in those desperate days of 2007, was to avoid a military defeat, inflict a defeat on al-Qaeda in the heart of the Sunni Muslim world, and substantially diminish the amount of violence in the Baghdad and elsewhere. We also hoped in so doing to strengthen the highly imperfect fledgling democracy in Iraq. The surge achieved all of these goals.
The surge was not intended to win oil contracts for U.S. companies (contrary to the claims of some on the American left). Nor was it designed to make Iraq’s democracy a liberal one.
In the less desperate days preceding the invasion of Iraq, some had hoped that, when the fight was over, Iraq would become something like a liberal democracy. But causing it to become one was not a main, or even secondary, goal of the invasion. Rather, we hoped by invading Iraq to overthrow the hostile regime of Saddam Hussein and to make sure that Iraq — which we believed possessed WMD and certainly had the ability to obtain them — would pose no threat to the security of its neighbors and to American interests. As a secondary benefit, we wanted to end or substantially limit the repression of Iraqis by their government and to plant the seed of democracy.
Here too we have succeeded, though at a high cost and not completely.
But for purposes of Afghan policymaking, the focus should be on the surge in Iraq, not the initial invasion. If a surge in Afghanistan deals a serious blow to al-Qaeda and the Taliban and creates conditions in current Taliban strongholds that resemble conditions in Anbar province, most of us will believe we have accomplished something important. This will be true regardless of how liberal or illiberal these areas become, regardless of whether they are free from major corruption, and regardless of whether old fashion warlords remain dominant in certain of them.
There is plenty of room to question whether any surge, and especially the Obama surge, will accomplish the limited objectives I just described. But decisions about the surge should, in my view, be governed by that set of questions, not concerns about how liberal Afghanistan would be in the aftermath of surge that succeeds in military terms.
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