In Iraq on Wednesday, another bombing threatened security and raised new fears of violence between Sunnis and Shiites once American troops withdraw. Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner, the former deputy foreign editor of the Washington Post, discusses how the 2007 surge of American troops has fared.
Anyone bereft of a basic filing system, or who perhaps doesn’t take time to face reality in the form of Google searches, might just want to focus on the words of General David Petraeus exactly one year ago before the Senate Armed Service Committee.
Back then, Democrats found difficulty in criticizing the surge. Meanwhile, Senator John McCain was proud to declare that he was at the forefront of the idea to send 20,000 U.S. troops to Iraq.
Despite the resident wisdom during the presidential campaign that promoted the success of then-President George W. Bush’s vaunted surge, Petraeus was closer to the ground, saying “We haven’t turned any corners. We haven’t seen any lights at the end of the tunnel” and warning that “Countless sectarian fault lines still exist in Baghdad and elsewhere.”
A year later, there seems to be surprise in the air every time a particularly bloody bomb attack is staged in Baghdad or other Iraqi environs. Petraeus wasn’t running for office and he was quick to mention that any U.S. successes in Iraq might be “fragile and reversible.”
The surge was a quick fix to be sure, and there are all sorts of statistics to show a decrease in violence. But in the long term, the battle lines are still drawn. Rival Sunni and Shiite factions keep their powder dry, but are still geared up for the coming battle whenever U.S. troops pull back. That’s mixed in with the baggage encased in a dilemma, one of many inherited by President Obama.
My friend and former colleague at the Washington Post, Thomas E. Ricks, describes the dilemma in his book, The Gamble, focusing on Petraeus and the surge. Commenting separately on the book, he has written that one basic problem is to understand what is meant by saying the surge “worked.”
“Yes, it did, in that it improved security. But it was meant to do more than that. It was supposed to create a breathing space in which Iraqi political leaders could move forward. In fact, as General Odierno [General Raymond T. Odierno, Petraeus’ successor as U.S. commander in Iraq] says in the book, some used the elbow room to move backward. The bottom line is that none of the basic problems facing Iraq have been addressed–the relationship between Shia, Sunni and Kurds, or who leads the Shias, or the status of the disputed city of Kirkuk, or the sharing of oil revenue.”
– Peter Eisner