Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Assessing salvage

Today David Brooks made the case that George Bush & co. "got one right" with the surge, and that "if the U.S. had withdrawn in the depths of the chaos, the world would be in worse shape today." Andrew Sullivan, acknowledging that Brooks is right "up to a point," offers up a litany of caveats:
We do not know what the long-term implications of the last year will be. History is unpredictable like that. It may be that historians in the future will look back at the surge and argue that it was the chimera that kept America in a no-win imperial province for decades, precipitating a wider and unnecessary war for oil when we should have been using our own unique skills to forge a post-oil future. It may be that a withdrawal by now would have forced more quickly a resolution of the power-struggles within Iraq, with more short-term cost and horror but less long-term agony and drain on the West.
While Sullivan insists that he doesn't "fall into the camp of those denying the surge's progress" - also true "up to a point" -- I think there's still a degree of denial in stressing that we don't know how history will judge the surge. Whatever happens in years ahead, the surge has been a catalyst of real improvement and has created real opportunities. With violence way down, the Mahdi army pulling back, Sunni cooperation increasing and the Sunnis visibly impressed by the government going after Shiite militias -- what more could have been asked of U.S. policy 18 months ago?

There's always indeterminacy in judging the effect of given policies. Rudolph Giuliani's support for new policing methods was one of many reasons for the crime drop in NYC in the 1990s, but Giuliani did deserve credit for taking action that capitalized on positive demographic and cultural changes. The surge benefited from the Sunni awakening and from the Mahdi rope-a-dope, but it also created conditions that made those decisions by Sunni leaders and Sadr possible.

More specifically, I don't think it's fair (or will have been fair, if Iraq deteriorates), to imagine the surge responsible for keeping us in Iraq for decades or for diverting us from solving our energy problems. Those decisions depend on future leaders. The next President is in a better position to extricate the U.S. from Iraq than he would have been minus the surge. McCain was right in December '06 when he said that the Iraqi government would not have the capacity to make political progress unless violence was reduced and a measure of stability achieved first.

The U.S. fought on in Vietnam on Nixon's watch for years after Nixon stated positively that we couldn't win. That's a crime. But that's not what's happened in Iraq. Brooks is right. The same character traits that led Bush to start a war under false pretenses and drastically mishandle it for four years also led him to choose an unpopular policy that has a reasonable chance of salvaging something from the wreckage.

1 comment:

  1. I think Brooks is getting a little ahead of himself here. A lot of very tiny political needles are yet to be threaded in Iraq. I'd guess that this is Brooks' way of helping McCain get elected.