New Yorker Says Luck, Not Surge, Why We're Winning In Iraq

July 15th, 2008 12:46 PM

The current New Yorker story on the political problem that Barack Obama faces now that Iraq has turned the corner and victory is within our grasp grossly misleads readers about the role of "the surge" in that growing success:

At the start of 2007, no one in Baghdad would have predicted that blood-soaked neighborhoods would begin returning to life within a year. The improved conditions can be attributed, in increasing order of importance, to President Bush’s surge, the change in military strategy under General David Petraeus, the turning of Sunni tribes against Al Qaeda, the Sadr militia’s unilateral ceasefire, and the great historical luck that brought them all together at the same moment.
Did you get that? Luck — not the efforts of the American military and its coalition partners — was the main cause for our success in stabilizing Iraq, according to the liberal magazine.

The New Yorker writer intentionally separates the "surge" from the change in miltary strategy, and separates both of those from the turning of the Sunni tribes against al Qaeda, in order to downplay any success that might be ascribed to President Bush's (and Sen. John McCain's) stalwart support for the surge, and the appointment of Gen. Petreaus to run the war.

Anybody who has spent even a few minutes to read up on the details of the surge strategy knows that it was not just an increase in the number of troops. In fact, the increase in troops was meant to give Gen. Petreaus sufficient troops to implement his new strategy and that strategy included winning the Sunni tribes over.

Petreaus' strategy was heavily influenced by Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, an Australian army officer who is considered the leading military expert on counterinsurgency and who was one of Petreaus' key advisers. (Kilcullen's "Twenty Eight Articles" and his other writings on counterinsurgency are the intellectual foundation of modern counterinsurgency tactics.)

Among Kilcullen's strategic insights:

Fight the enemy's strategy, not his forces. Instead of seeking open battle, secure the populace and counter the insurgents' message. They will eventually be forced to fight.

Practice armed civil affairs.

In this kind of war, the engineers, area specialists and project managers of civil affairs may be the most important combat asset. Avoid mega-projects in favor of localized programs that will yield tangible results and jobs in weeks and months, not years.

Organize for intelligence. Counterinsurgency operations are very intel-focused. Without knowledge of who the enemy is, and where he is, ops cannot succeed.

To accomplish anything worthwhile, troops need to live among the populace, not in fortress bases isolated from them.

Build trusted networks.

Success requires cooperative relationships with many players, including host-country forces, local leaders, religious figures, other government agencies, the media and humanitarian organizations.

In one of his published articles, Kilcullen summarized the recipe for waging a successful counterinsurgency campaign as "the agile integration of civil and military measures across security, economic, political and information tracks."

The Bush/Petreaus surge strategy implemented Kilcullen's counterinsurgency strategies - which included winning over the local populace, including the Sunni tribes.

But the New Yorker, rather than telling the truth, separates the whole of the surge strategy into three parts, the New Yorker is able to pretend that "President Bush's surge," and "the change in military strategy under General David Petreaus" are not one and the same, and played only a bit-player role in the success in Iraq, and allowed them to assign the chief cause of that success to "great historical luck."

As for the role of "the Sadr militia’s unilateral ceasefire," which the New Yorker places a second only to "luck" as the reason for our success - is it not possible that the leader of said militia understood that, with the new troop surge and counterinsurgency strategy his militia was very likely to lose - and that a ceasefire would protect his future political viability?

Not according to the New Yorker, which wants you to believe that our brave troops are winning and transforming Iraq because they got lucky. They'll write it in an article, but I bet there isn't a single New Yorker staffer who would say it to the faces of our troops in Iraq.