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Thirteen Ways Of Looking At The Surge

I think David Brooks is right when he writes of those who opposed the surge (myself included):

They have already gone through the stages of intellectual denial. First, they simply disbelieved that the surge and the Petraeus strategy was doing any good. Then they accused people who noticed progress in Iraq of duplicity and derangement. Then they acknowledged military, but not political, progress. Lately they have skipped over to the argument that Iraq is progressing so well that the U.S. forces can quickly come home.

But before long, the more honest among the surge opponents will concede that Bush, that supposed dolt, actually got one right. Some brave souls might even concede that if the U.S. had withdrawn in the depths of the chaos, the world would be in worse shape today.

Life is complicated. The reason we have democracy is that no one side is right all the time. The only people who are dangerous are those who can’t admit, even to themselves, that obvious fact.

And I think Joe Klein is right when, in response to Brooks, he cautions that

right-wing triumphalists shouldn't get too triumphal: this war has been a terrible mistake from the start.


The surge has reduced violence. We should all be thrilled about that--and honored by the brilliance of those who have served in Iraq. But what we're talking about here is whipped cream on a pile of fertilizer--a regional policy unprecedented in its stupidity and squalor.

But there's one line Brooks's column that rankles me (and that Klein didn't critique):

Bush, who made such bad calls early in the war, made a courageous and astute decision in 2006. 

With the benefit of hindsight, I guess we can call Bush's decision astute (although one man's astuteness can be another man's luck). But courageous? I don't see how Bush's support of the surge can be described as such.

Yes, as Brooks notes, Bush was bucking "expert and elite opinion" with the surge; but, at the same time, he was a president in his second term on the other side of the mid-term elections, so he wasn't risking much politically. What's more, if Bush had followed that expert and elite opinion and started withdrawing troops from Iraq, he would have been admitting that the war was a mistake, which would have cemented his place in history as a president who presided over a military defeat. By supporting the surge, Bush was like a gambler deep in the hole who, rather than walk away from the table, doubles down. Even if such a move works, there's nothing courageous about it.

--Jason Zengerle