Thursday, February 28, 2008

Holding back on the surge

Andrew Sullivan protests too much that benefits of the surge are uncertain:
But surely two facts help explain its unexpected success: the Sunni insurgency decided that crazy Jihadists were temporarily a greater threat than the Shiites or the Americans, and were happy to be trained, armed and paid by the US to regain control of their territory; and Sadr decided it was in his interests to facilitate rather than impede the construction of a Shiite-dominated state. The question now is whether the reduced violence means a greater chance of an historic rapprochement between the various ethnic and sectarian factions that divide Iraq at a national level - which was explicitly the goal of the surge (emphasis added0.
Cause and effect is always a tangle. Did Rudy Giuliani 'cause' the crime drop in NY? No, but he did the right things to facilitate it, for a while at least. I think it's fair to say that the surge created conditions pushing the Sunni insurgency and Sadr to "decide" on courses favorable to the goals of the surge. As to Sullivan's final question above: who knows whether or how much rapprochement there'll be -- but surely reduced violence means a greater chance of a good outcome.

We'll never know what would have happened had U.S. troop presence been reduced in early '07 in concert with the multi-front diplomatic efforts recommended by the Iraq Study Group. But I am troubled by Obama's so far unwavering insistence that he will withdraw all combat troops within sixteen months. If I remember right, Hillary was saying at an earlier phase that she couldn't know in advance what rate of troop withdrawal would be appropriate by Jan. 09 and beyond. I think that's the right tack. The time may come to gamble on taking our hand away -- for a different president, that time might be now -- but I don't think that judgment can be made far in advance or from the outside. I think that Obama somehow (and Hillary for that matter) need to open up some maneuvering space for themselves. Of course, they're in a box now -- each would beat up on the other if one hedged at this point, and either would have a very tough time running center on this after winning the nomination. Obama in particular has been running on a clean contrast with McCain -- how can he admit any lasting benefit at all may come from the surge?

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