In the Arena

What if the Surge Seems to be Working?

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In her Time Magazine interview, Condoleezza Rice, like SecDef Gates, seems to be saying that Baghdad can be pacified in a matter of months:
“I think in the next few months you are going to know whether or not this is working,” she said. “They bring forces in starting February 1st. They bring in another set of forces February 15th. And I think from then on you’ll have a good sense of how this is unfolding. So it’s not as if there is a date, at six months, we’ll know and then we have to do something dramatic. This is going to happen over a period of time. So you’ve got time to adjust. You’ve got time to go to them and say, you’re not getting it done.”
As I’ve written in earlier posts, this stands contrary to the basic principles of counterinsurgency doctrine–that it takes a long time to get residents of a distressed neighborhood to put their faith in the troops, rather than in the insurgents, and that it requires a stable, credible government.
But there is a very good possibility that the Baghdad operation will appear to be successful in the short-term. Guerrillas tend to avoid straight up confrontations with conventional forces. When the second battle of Falluja took place in November 2004, most of the insurgents evaporated–and fighting erupted in cities largely abandoned by U.S. troops. Mosul, for example. That could be an early consequence of the plus-up in Baghdad: fighting intensifies elsewhere in the country. Or–more likely–the guerrillas could just go to ground for six months until the U.S. troops withdraw to the periphery of Baghdad. That’s why counterinsurgency experts insist that these sorts of operations take years to complete. That’s why the administration is being irresponsible when it says that we’ll see results in a matter of months. We may, but they’ll probably be illusory.