How a surge can win the war in Iraq

Jack Keane and Frederick W. Kagan:

Reports on the Bush administration's efforts to craft a new strategy in Iraq often use the term "surge" but rarely define it. Estimates of the number of troops to be added in Baghdad range from fewer than 10,000 to more than 30,000. Some "surges" would last a few months, others a few years.

We need to cut through the confusion. Bringing security to Baghdad -- the essential precondition for political compromise, national reconciliation and economic development -- is possible only with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any other option is likely to fail.

The key to the success is to change the military mission -- instead of preparing for transition to Iraqi control, that mission should be to bring security to the Iraqi population. Surges aimed at accelerating the training of Iraqi forces will fail, because rising sectarian violence will destroy Iraq before the new forces can bring it under control.

Any military strategy must of course be accompanied by a range of diplomatic, political, economic and reconciliation initiatives, but those alone will not contain the violence either. Success in Iraq today requires a well-thought-out military operation aimed at bringing security to the people of Baghdad as quickly as possible -- a traditional counterinsurgency mission.

Of all the "surge" options out there, short ones are the most dangerous. Increasing troop levels in Baghdad for three or six months would virtually ensure defeat. It takes that long for newly arrived soldiers to begin to understand the areas where they operate. Short surges would redeploy them just as they began to be effective.

In addition, a short surge would play into the enemy's hands. Both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias expect the U.S. presence to fade away over the course of 2007, and they expect any surge to be brief. They will naturally go to ground in the face of a short surge and wait until we have left. They will then attack the civilian population and whatever Iraqi security forces remain, knowing them to be easier targets than U.S. soldiers and Marines. They will work hard to raise the level of sectarian violence in order to prove that our efforts have failed.

We have seen this pattern so many times before that we can be virtually certain the enemy will follow it in the face of a short surge. The only cure is to maintain our presence long enough either to root out the hiding enemy or to defeat him when he becomes impatient. A surge that lasted at least 18 months would achieve that aim. It would also provide time to bring Iraqi forces up to the level needed to fight whatever enemy remains.

There is more. Many Democrats have already indicated they are not willing to give victory a chance in Iraq, so the hardest part of implementing this plan will be getting political support for it. Joe Biden has clearly indicated he wants to lose the war by opposing any surge. Majority Leader Reed has said he will only approve the short surge loser option. To make this work the President will have to play chicken with the Democrats on the funding of the war. He can send the troops and dare the Democrats to withhold funding.


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