Behind the Surge's Success

It has become axiomatic to point to many different reasons for Iraq's improved security situation -- the presence of more U.S. troops, the completion of Iraq's ethnic cleansing campaigns, demographic changes, and political deals with Sunni and Shiite leaders calling for an end to their violence.

Of all these, the political deals seem most significant. We never had enough troops in Iraq to impose security and order, even with the 30,000 or so troops added with the surge. The political deals enabled us to reduce the violence through diplomacy -- something we had not been able to do with force.

In this month's Military Review, Army Col. Sean MacFarland and Maj. Niel Smith tell the inside story of this diplomatic effort. MacFarland commanded the Army brigade that operated in Anbar in 2006. He is widely credited with initiating the unorthodox strategy that led to the "Anbar Awakening" and leveraging certain events and political shifts to forge a lasting political bargain in Anbar. Smith commanded a company in Anbar under MacFarland and now works at the Army's counterinsurgency center at Fort Leavenworth. Their story is worth reading to better understand where we're at today in Iraq.

By Phillip Carter |  April 14, 2008; 9:44 PM ET  | Category:  Iraq
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Success anywhere connected to Iraq is an oxymoron. Just not going to happen. Put as much lipstick on it as you want. Iraq is a tragedy. Coming out the gate it was botched. Like Pandora's Box. Nice try boys. You did nothing wrong yet everything is wrong. Some serious thinking about the reality of US foreign policy is called for. The dreams of Empire the too clever by far deal making have gotten this country in a hell of a lot of trouble. Serious crimes against humanity have been commited. Our foreign entanglements too convoluted. The question is can we police ourselves.

Posted by: elgunjduts | April 15, 2008 1:05 AM

Posted by: doug | April 15, 2008 3:24 AM

So are we to believe that though the diplomatic efforts of Col. MacFarland and Maj. Smith that they recreated the Awakening Council? "Our desire to recruit local Iraqis into the IPIP was the catalyst for the Awakening movement's birth in September 2006." They sure do take a lot of credit. Question is -- is it justified or did the Iraqi's do this themselves?

"In the bargain, the Government of Iraq would assume the burden of paying their tribesmen to provide their security."

Another misleading statement. Most people realize that 80,000 former Sunni insurgents are now on the US payroll at $300 a month. To say that the Iraqi government is "paying their tribesmen to provide their security" is just not accurate.

Posted by: Steven | April 15, 2008 8:33 AM

Its funny that a complete reversal of Rumsfelds strategy is now being hailed as a major victory. The fact that US forces are paying for security indicates an abdication of the idea of the Maliki government as a legal central official unity. The US is currently financing sunni militias, and its chosen government is built by Iran. Woohoo. Victory for Bush? Rather, a case of trying to spin the facts that the first 3 years were a complete failure but the military is adapting. How Petraeus manages to play along, I do not understand.

Posted by: fnord | April 15, 2008 10:05 AM

I heard on the radio this morning that the Mahdi Army is supplying social services to Shi'ites displaced by the de facto partitioning of Iraq. The report claimed that the Mahdi Army was in fact the largest suppier of such services. Seems they are taking a page from Hamas' book.

I think there is an excellent chance that Sadr will win control of COR in October. If he then asks the US to leave, what do we do?

Posted by: DanPatrick | April 15, 2008 10:38 AM

"I think there is an excellent chance that Sadr will win control of COR in October. If he then asks the US to leave, what do we do?"

That one's easy. If we (The US) haven't managed to completely discredit him and/or murder enough of his political base by election time then we will simply have "rival factions" eliminate him.

Posted by: Corner Stone | April 15, 2008 1:20 PM

"Behind the Surge's Success"???
Goodness gracious, but how could any sentient writer frame a discussion post like this?
I'm assuming bloggers retain control over headlines unlike reporter's. If that's not true then I'll apologize. Otherwise, this is truly awful on your part Mr. Carter.

Posted by: Corner Stone | April 15, 2008 1:22 PM

Corner Stone:

I think you've got it exactly 180 out - I think GWB and his advisers are praying for an Iraqi leader who explicitly tells them to get out - that way they can do their little victory dance and blame the next administration when the country sinks back into civil war.

Posted by: Ray Kimball | April 15, 2008 1:51 PM

"I think you've got it exactly 180 out - I think GWB and his advisers are praying for an Iraqi leader who explicitly tells them to get out"

If that were true then why would we be assisting Maliki in eroding Sadr's power base? A little slap and tickle action - where we aide Maliki in the initial attack but then back off and allow Sadr to play the noble Iraqi Nationalist & Defender so he can look good to the home crowd - would be understandable. But that's not what happened. ISTM Maliki opened the ball, we were committed to the laughable idea of legitimate Iraqi Governmental force, and proceeded to pound the absolute hell out of Sadr's voting populace day in and day out.
Sure Sadr and his militia are providing essential services to the people, and that makes for good PR, but the message is clear.
And as for your assumption that Bushco is looking for an easy way out, and hopes to be *told* to leave by a fellow they have demonized repeatedly over the last several years - I can not buy that Machiavellian logic. I agree with you that it would be the *smart* thing to do, but I think we have ample evidence that the Bush Way and the Smart Way do not run parallel.
And I understand that when we demonize someone we give him major props for his home crowd, so it makes sense to build him into a huge anti-US figure so when he "kicks us out" he has some initial goodwill among Iraqi's, but that is simply not how Bush and his admin have played the game to this point. We have 6 years of evidence pointing to how they do things, and none of their actions to date has been as smart a decision as you suggest they want to happen now at this late stage.
Bush will certainly dance with glee when the next President has Iraq fail on him/her, but his smirky ego will never let the world see his last action as being "kicked out of Iraq". Never.

Posted by: Corner Stone | April 15, 2008 3:55 PM

Well I suppose Sadr winning control of the COR is a hypothetical, but to me it's a fascinating speculation. Really, what would Bush do if the election put Sadr's party in control of the COR?

I think Bush has already shown his hand: Sadr's political party will be outlawed because of the Mahdi Army being an illegal militia. It will be done in such a way that Sadr is unable to prove that the Mahdi Army has not been "disbanded", even if he wanted to do so. By the way, the Sunni militias will not be forced to give up their arms.

Having disenfranchised a significant fraction, perhaps a plurality of Iraqi voters, the US and Maliki will be viewed buy many Iraqis, and most of the world, as not interested in a democratic Iraq at all. Whatever government that results from the October elections will be seen as a US puppet, and probably deeply unpopular within Iraq itself. Parallels will be drawn with the US treatment of Hamas.

And even worse: the Sunnis may capture control of COR if enough Shia boycott the October elections. Now we're faced with a Sunni government who has substantial militias available, along with control of the National Army and Police. They fire most of the Shia, since everybody knows the Mahdi Army has hopelessly infiltrated their ranks, replace them with the militia, and start settling scores from 2003-2006.

Admittedly, not a rosy scenario. Plausible?

Oh and here's another question:

How come our proxies ran away when the Iranian proxies fought? Think maybe we should get the Iranians training the IA? Or does it have to do with the level of committment on each side?

Posted by: DanPatrick | April 15, 2008 5:12 PM

Here's a story with more detail on the Iraqi desertions in Sadr City:



Posted by: almost drafted | April 16, 2008 11:45 AM

I cannot understand how so many of you discuss what is happening in Iraq like it is all some Bush conspiracy. It is pathetic and dishonorable. Bush has made many mistakes, I certainly don't have to tell you that, but a few key facts have been forgotten. First, this war was approved by a bipartisan majority in Congress. Second, it was overwhelmingly popular with the American people. It is not "Bush's War," it is America's war. The ideology behind the war was not snuck into national debate by Jewish intellectuals, it was on full display in 1998 when Pres. Clinton declared regime change to be the US policy towards Iraq. Talk about intelligence issues all you want, most of us believed Saddam had WMD. To claim that the administration "deceived us" is childish. We had access to most of the intelligence, we had the ability to examine it and Saddam's behaviors and draw out own conclusions, and we did so. The first few years the administration handled the war terribly. But it is a war that we are all invested in, and that our fellow citizens are sacrificing themselves for, and whatever your personal feelings about the current president, leaving Iraq in chaos will be a horrible thing for the Iraqis and for our country. Focusing the debate on what happened four years ago in the run-up to the war is pointless. If you are a responsible person, you will think about what we can do now to make things better, and not waste all our time. And furthermore, it is amazing all the self-righteous moralizing I hear about getting out. Certainly a case can be made for pulling out, but it is not a moral one. It would amount to abandoning Iraqis to chaos, and would be a betrayal to the millions of Iraqis who are literally risking their lives every day for the future of their country. Now if that is the decision you think is in the best interest of the country, then make the argument, but it should be put forth in humble and somber terms, not with such contempt and sanctimony.

Posted by: DH | April 17, 2008 4:28 PM

DH: "If you are a responsible person, you will think about what we can do now to make things better, and not waste all our time."

I am responsible, I've thought about it, and I won't waste your time, DH. Time to bring the troops home. We freed the Iraqis from the evil dictator; now they're sorting things out and deciding who's going to run their country. We're getting in the way by choosing sides to advance our own ends. There is nothing noble about what we're doing. Not counting the U.S., there is no external threat to Iraq. We had our civil war. Let 'em have theirs, without foreign interference.

And, yes, the invasion was based on lies. And no, the American people did not have access to the so-called intelligence. They only got what the Bush Administration fed them. If you deny that, you're wasting MY time.

Posted by: Publius | April 18, 2008 6:13 PM

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