Let me first take this brief opportunity to thank Ilan and the folks at Democracy Arsenal for the opportunity to guestblog. There is so much to talk about in the news today, it's hard to know where to start, but like many in the blogosphere I wanted to offer a few comments on the recent NYT editorial by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack on Iraq.
Much of the criticism, atleast on sites like TPM, Thinkprogress and others has been directed at the mainstream media for giving Pollack and O'Hanlon an enormous amount of media coverage, particularly since they've been pretty much consistently wrong on everything about the war from the beginning; as well as the fact that O'Hanlon published a Brookings report at complete odds with his op-ed. All fair points, but really the issue here is the substance of their comments - and that deserves as mush criticism as anything else.
O'Hanlon and Pollack claim that from a military perspective the surge is working. Having not been to Iraq I will not try to quibble with their assertions (no matter my own reservations or those raised in the Brookings report) yet one passage in their op-ed jumped out at me:
In the end, the situation in Iraq remains grave. In particular, we still face huge hurdles on the political front. Iraqi politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position against one another when major steps towards reconciliation — or at least accommodation — are needed.
You think? In case we've all forgotten, the surge was predicated on the notion that by improving the security situation in Baghdad, it would give the Iraqis breathing room to move forward on political reform. In fact, here's what the President said when he announced the surge policy in January.
This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks. Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering. Yet over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas.
Yet, as O'Hanlon and Pollack acknowledge nearly seven months after the annoucement of the surge, there has been virtually no progress on any of the major political reforms that Iraq needs. And it's not as if Iraqi leaders are really putting themselves out to achieve these goals.
The surge was never meant to represent a military solution to the challenges facing Iraq. At its core, the surge represented a coordinated military and political initiative. Indeed, the two are inextricably linked. So even if you buy the notion that the military effort is acheiving success, by ignoring the Iraqi government's political failures O'Hanlon and Pollack are conveniently minimizing what is the key issue to the long-term success of the surge.
While they acknowledge that "the surge cannot go on forever," they argue "that there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008."
Why? If after seven months of dawdling what evidence is there that Iraq's leaders will at some point actually accomplish something? Without the threat of American withdrawal or, heaven forbid, a timetable for withdrawal is there any lever that would push the Iraqis to compromise? I have yet to see one and Pollack and O'Hanlon certainly don't offer it.
In the end, both men seem to ignore the fact that winning the battle is not the same thing as winning the war.