The limits of “surge and run”

The Washington Post reports on an upsurge of terrorist violence in Anbar province. On Thursday, fiive explosions in a city in the province killed at least eight people. A week earlier, twin explosions killed at least 24 people. There have also been approximately 40 attempted assassinations in Anbar province, according to the Post.
As a result, the Iraqi government has replaced the provincial police chief. This has angered the tribal leaders. They considered the police chief ineffective, but see his replacement by an army chief from Baghdad as an affront to their power.
The tribal leaders also say that members of al Qaeda in Iraq were released from local prisions after the U.S. turned them over to the Iraqi government as part of our withdrawal agreement. If true, and some Iraqi officials say it is, this would be particularly disturbing.
Who do the Iraqis think they are, Eric Holder?
This news has some interesting implications with respect to the Iraq surge and “surges” generally. First, it further undercuts the claims of leftists and other Bush administration critics that the surge was not responsible for the stunning turnaround in Anbar province that followed our change in strategy. Critics argued that internal developments in Anbar province,not the U.S. surge, were responsible for the transformation. This claim was always implausibe — tribal leaders almost surely would not have committed to taking on al Qaeda without our support; they hadn’t before we surged. It is even less plausible now that the situation has worsened following our departure. U.S. presence is down from 35 enclaves to 5, and our forces are largely confined to their base in Ramadii and rarely accompany Iraqis on operations.
Second, developments in Anbar province show that a “surge and run” strategy — though generally preferable to its alternatives of “cut and run” or continue to lose — is not the best approach. The best approach would have been to maintain a more substantial presence in Anbar province, to continue to accompany Iraqis on operations, and not to turn al Qaeda prisoners over to Iraq. There were, of course, political pressures both at home and in Iraq that militated against this approach. Let’s hope the price for giving in to those pressures does not include a major resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Debates about the Iraq surge are largely academic at this point except to the extent they provide lessons for Afghanistan. In my view, the lesson for Afghanistan is that we should surge, but not surge and run.
President Obama has not said in so many words that we will surge and run, only that we will begin reducing our forces in July 2011 based on conditions on the ground. My guess is that, in practice, this will mean surge and run. I hope I’m wrong.
If I’m not wrong, we can expect that some of the whatever progress the surge in Afghanistan makes likely will be undone. Moreover, by sending the signal that we intend to surge and run, Obama reduces the likelihood that local forces will assist us, and thus reduces the prospects for a successful surge in the first instance.


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