Saturday, June 7, 2008

Judgment, CINC-Style

Frederick Kagan seems to sum it up pretty well:
Four days later, Obama told Face the Nation, "We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war. And until we acknowledge that reality--we can send 15,000 more troops, 20,000 more troops, 30,000 more troops, I don't know any expert on the region or any military officer that I've spoken to privately that believes that that is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground."

So what happened? President Bush ordered the surge. He committed an additional five Army brigades and two Marine battalions to Iraq with the mission of protecting the Iraqi population. In accomplishing this, U.S. forces partnered with Iraqi troops precisely as McCain had suggested, helping them "hold" areas that they had jointly "cleared." Meanwhile, American troops established bonds with local leaders, as McCain had said they would, which led to the expansion of the "Anbar Awakening" movement throughout central Iraq. And U.S. troops developed numerous economic and infrastructure projects that provided jobs.

Sectarian violence stopped almost completely. Al Qaeda in Iraq was dealt what CIA director Michael Hayden now assesses as "a near strategic defeat." This allowed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to commit Iraqi Security Forces directly against the last remaining illegal militias in Iraq, clearing them out of Basra and Sadr City--weaning "the populace off their reliance on militias for safety," as McCain had put it. American casualties initially rose, as McCain had warned they would, but then fell dramatically: Last month was the lowest-casualty month of the entire war.

Once violence was under control, the Iraqis began to make serious political progress, as McCain had predicted. They passed almost all of the "benchmark" legislation that Obama's bill would have required.

What would have happened if Obama's bill had passed? There is no way to know for sure, but it seems likely that, facing less resistance, Al Qaeda in Iraq would have continued to gain strength, the fragile Iraqi Security Forces would have collapsed, as would the fragile Iraqi government, militias would have flourished--and the United States would have departed under fire, accepting a humiliating defeat in the war against al Qaeda that would have reverberated globally.

For any voter trying to choose between the two candidates for commander in chief, there is no better test than this: When American strategy in a critical theater was up for grabs, John McCain proposed a highly unpopular and risky path, which he accurately predicted could lead to success. Barack Obama proposed a popular and politically safe route that would have led to an unnecessary and debilitating American defeat at the hands of al Qaeda.
Obama gets props for accurately predicting--from that safe distance of the Illinois legislature--that the Iraq invasion would be a nightmare. But I wonder if that prediction outweighs his more recent--and utterly erroneous--prediction of disaster for the surge.

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