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February 21, 2008

Right For the Wrong Reasons
Posted by Michael Cohen

In today's Washington Post, Michael Kinsley makes the correct argument (and one that has been noticeably absent from the op-ed page of the Post) that the surge in Iraq has not been successful. Much praise is due for getting that one right, but as to why . . . there Kinsley is way off.

As faithful readers of DA are well aware, the surge in Iraq was based on a simple idea: that improving security (particularly in Baghdad) would provide breathing room for Iraq's leaders to move forward with political reform. Of course, this has not happened. But according to Kinsley, the surge's success or failure should be judged by a different criteria, "Has it allowed us to reduce troop levels to below where they were when it started? And the answer is no."

But this is an imperfect judge of success. If a year after the announcement of the surge Iraqis had put in place a new oil law, or passed a real de-Baathification bill, or showed any inclination to move forward with constitutional reform, the surge would be considered a success . . . and I would imagine that many surge opponents would accept a continued troop presence, as long as we felt that progress was being achieved. Speaking as one supporter of the surge, I know I would. Indeed, critics of the Iraq war effort have consistently lambasted the Bush Administration for its failure to adapt to changing facts on the ground in Iraq. These critics would be no better if they adopted the same pig-headed approach.

But of course the steps I outlined above have not happened and that's why so many surge opponents continue to believe that present troop levels must be reduced.

Focusing on security issues and the size of our troop presence in Iraq has always been the absolute wrong metric to judge success and failure in Iraq. It's wrong when the Bush Administration does it and it's wrong when surge opponents do it. Quite simply, there is no military solution to the challenges we are facing in Iraq.

The only metric that truly matters is political progress. And on that count the surge has been a failure.


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One thing that the surge proponents refuse to mention is the economic costs of the war. Even if the United States stays in Iraq for another ten years, can we really afford it?

Well, as it happens, most of the surge's critics don't mention the cost of the war either.

According to the critique here, for example, whether the surge succeeds or fails is entirely up to the Iraqis. If they make political progress, the surge succeeds, and if they don't it fails. Of course if they don't make political progress it is the surge's fault, not theirs -- the logic on that point is a little hard to explain. In any event the Iraqis' progress is the only metric that truly matters.

As to whether the United States can afford to be in Iraq for