Analyzing the success of the surge

Published 6:11 am Monday, July 23, 2007

By By Tray Smith
For a long time, the United States' counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq was based on three factors: economic reconstruction, political reform and the formation of Iraqi security forces. For a long time, the U.S. strategy, which is still somewhat based on those determinations, failed miserably. In hindsight, the reason for this, as has been pointed out by the likes of Dr. Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, is somewhat obvious. Because the Iraqi factions are competing for power based on ethnic, rather than ideological lines, the economic conditions in Iraq are not likely to make a significant difference in the intensity of the violence. Democratic elections only aggregate the ethnic differences that already exist. And national security forces threaten minority groups who fear that they are simply an agent of their rival majority. The moral to the story is that, whereas the strength of ideological movements fluctuate in correlation with their successes, the strength of ethnic groups are much more constant. Racial and religious populations endure much longer than political movements.
President Bush often dubs the current conflict as a war of ideas, and that is true up until a certain point. The battle of the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people, for instance, in choosing freedom over resentment and radical Islam is a battle of ideas. However, once the decision to choose freedom was made, the question then became who would lead the new, free Iraq? In America, voters definitely make such decisions based on their political beliefs. But in Iraq, individuals proved too loyal to their individual sects to accommodate such a process, and instead make those decisions along ethnic lines. Thus, the democratic process in Iraq is not a war of ideas but a war of ethnicities. Instead of conservatives and liberals, they have Sunnis and Shiites.
It is very important to clarify that the war between the United States and Iraq ceased in 2003, and the violence going on now is a combination of terrorists, many of them from foreign countries, combating the United States troop presence and Iraqis combating each other. The argument can easily be made that the United States presence in Iraq has drawn the terrorists there, however, thinking that the terrorists will leave if the U.S. troops do is naive. That requires believing that the terrorists are fighting our troops simply for the sake of fighting them, with no designs on what to do with Iraq once those troops are gone. The argument can also be made that the United States presence in Iraq caused the sectarian violence, which it has. However, seeing as our actions led to the inflammation of violence, do we not have an obligation to try and cool the situation? And if we do not use our resources to bring the warring sects to form some sort of compromise, who will?
In light of these questions, and in light of the blunders of our former strategy, the adjustments that the Bush administration have made in recent months are very important. By increasing the overall number of U.S. troops in Iraq, we are increasing the level of security our soldiers can provide to the Iraqis. Thus, violence has decreased and al Qaeda has lost its safe havens in Diyala and Anbar provinces. Tribal leaders are abandoning the terrorists and cooperating with coalition forces. Because we are now able to grant safety to the Iraqi people by troops they are more likely to trust than their national security forces, more of the Iraqis are giving up their former dependence on insurgents. As this "surge" strategy succeeds, old points of emphasis, such as economic reconstruction and political reconciliation, will become more important. However; those items are meaningless unless we first have an established order in Iraq.
I find it hypocritical to argue that we created the mess in Iraq and then fight to withdraw our troops. Indeed, our entire misadventure in Iraq has been a chronicle of blunders, mistakes and poor judgment. If we had the pleasure to do it all over again, I seriously doubt many would support invading Iraq. But we do not have that pleasure, we are already deeply involved in this conflict and we have a responsibility to see it through.
By giving our troops the resources they need to get the job done, I believe we can succeed I was initially skeptical of the administration's decision to surge the number of troops, but in light of its success, I do not believe we can afford to abandon it. It is our last hope in Iraq, and we should see it through.
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS and former intern in the Riley administration. He can be reached for comment at

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