Declaring Victory

Spencer Ackerman comments on the surge of overconfidence afflicting hawkish circles:

Over the past several months, surgenik euphoria has gotten out of control. War supporters all but declared victory as soon as 2007 ended. "We are now winning the war," writes new NYT columnist Bill Kristol in the current Weekly Standard. "We at the Weekly Standard thought the chances of success were better than 50-50 -- but that it remained a difficult proposition. Petraeus pulled it off." Leave aside for a moment the question of Kristol's cynicism and presume his sincerity. What this account neglects (as an understatement) is that every single time U.S. forces have shifted their tactics and pushed the insurgencies back -- the capture of Fallujah, the death of Zarqawi, the capture and the execution of Saddam Hussein, Operation Together Forward I, Operation Together Forward II, etc. -- the insurgency and al-Qaeda have watched, adjusted, adapted, and responded.

On thing that I think's important to keep in mind is that over the course of the summer of 2003 as the insurgency broke out in Iraq, public doubts about the war really began to grow. It looked like things maybe weren't going to well. This dude Howard Dean who nobody had heard of was picking up unprecedented levels of money and enthusiasm. And then Saddam Hussein was captured. And then Dean observed that capturing Saddam hadn't made America safer. And then all hell broke loose. Saddam's capture was deemed to have so thoroughly discredited the anti-war movement that people running in a Democratic primary decided it was time to savagely attack from the right. And not just Joe Lieberman. John Kerry this was "more proof that all the advisers in the world can't give Howard Dean the military and foreign-policy experience, leadership skills, or diplomatic temperament necessary to lead this country through dangerous times."

Again, the January 2005 elections were universally believed to have discredited war opponents. Then came a few other events that at least some people believed discredited war opponents.

The weird thing about the surge is that it's failure has been much more unambiguous. The theory behind the surge was clear. Some people said more troops would bring more security to Iraq. Critics of that idea noted that sending more troops would be logistically unsustainable. Surge theorists posited that a temporary increase in force levels would create a temporary increase in security that would open window of opportunity for political reconciliation that would allow for a permanent increase in security. So the surge was implemented. As of September, the surge had failed to generate the political reconciliation that would allow for a permanent increase in security. Surge supporters told skeptics we had to give it more time. Three months later, the surge has still failed to generate the political reconciliation that would allow for a permanent increase in security.

Now we're near the point of de-surging -- the window is closing rapidly and nobody thinks the opportunity will be seized. And yet surge fans are declaring victory. It's doesn't make sense. The surge's architects laid out admirably clear goals for it. Laid them out and unambiguously failed to meet them.