A few days ago, we were talking about Tom Ricks’ pessimism with regard to Iraq. The Times locates some fuel for that particular fire today. Clearly, the Iraqi government needs to figure out a way to find employment for more of the Sunni Awakening militia members…and it would be nice if we had a US Ambassador who was a terrific negotiator on the ground to help–but, last I looked, Chris Hill’s nomination is being delayed by Senator Sam Brownback, a great American patriot, no doubt.
By the way, Pete Wehner fired back against Ricks and me on the Commentary blog. His essential argument was that he was “right” about the surge and Ricks and I weren’t. As if his being “right” were a matter of careful research and evaluation on his part and not an involuntary lizard reflex, his mechanical support for all things Bush. (In 2005 and 2006, he no doubt thought the disastrous Casey-Abizaid counterterrorism strategy was “right,” too.)
I can’t speak for Ricks, but my doubts about the surge came as a result of long conversations with members of the Petraeus staff. Key members of the team opposed the operation, including Petraeus’s top counterinsurgency adviser David Kilcullen and others, whose names will remain private because our conversations were. All of us were fans of counterinsurgency doctrine. It seemed the most humane way to protect Iraqi–and now, Afghan–civilians against the chaos and terrorism that we had created (in Iraq) by invading. But there were substantive questions about its applicability in 2007–was the Iraqi government a reliable partner, were there enough troops, enough time? All of us were fans of Petraeus–who ran a wildly creative, and yet rigorous, intellectual shop, filled with iconoclasts, while being the sort of leader his troops admired without reservation. I still am. Happily, the “surge” operation succeeded beyond our wildest dreams….but, as today’s events make clear, it isn’t over yet. And it is entirely possible that Iraq may be in for a bad patch, perhaps even fall apart. At which point, Wehner et al will, no doubt, attack Obama for a withdrawal timetable that (a) the Iraqis, (b) John McCain and (c) almost everybody else now supports.