The Baghdad Focus


Damien Cave and Stephen Farrell, "Troop Buildup, Yielding Slight Gains, Fails to Meet U.S. Goals"

Seven months after the American-led troop “surge” began, Baghdad has experienced modest security gains that have neither reversed the city’s underlying sectarian dynamic nor created a unified and trusted national government.

One thing to keep in mind about the "surge" is that the overall increase in the number of American soldiers wasn't especially large relative to either the pre-existing size of the deployment or to the size of Iraq. But along with the "surge" of additional American forces into the country, there was a "surge" of forces away from non-Baghdad portions of Iraq into the capital. It would be extraordinary if that policy didn't manage to produce "modest security gains" in Baghdad at the expense of problems elsewhere. The question is why one might think this kind of concentration of forces might be a good idea.

Roughly speaking, there are two possible ideas. One is that the security gains might be large enough to reach some kind of tipping point. You start with X troops in Baghdad. Then you "surge" up to X + Y troops. This surge produces a self-sustaining new situation, so now you surge down to fewer than X troops in Baghdad, allowing you to surge up elsewhere. That, though, hasn't happened. The "underlying sectarian dynamic" is the same.

Alternatively, one might think that the national capital is uniquely important to political events, and that a special focus on Baghdad security might create the environment for political reconciliation. That, though, hasn't happened either. The whole thing's failed. Now people would like us to believe that other "bottom up" trends compensate for the failure of the plan. But since this cuts directly against the logic of the policy we've been pursuing since January, there's no reason to think that anything we're doing is having a substantial positive impact on whatever decentralized processes in Iraq may or may not be evolving in a good situation. The scorecard can't just credit the US military presence for any good thing that happens anywhere in Iraq, while simultaneously arguing that without the military presence every bad thing about Iraq would be worse.

DoD photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, U.S. Air Force