Today in a Washington Post op-ed, surge advocates retired general Jack Keane, AEI scholar Frederick Kagan, and the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon trumpet Iraq’s new de-Baathification legislation as a first step in the surge’s “remarkable” success:
The full surge has been in place and operating for just over six months, and already violence has fallen dramatically across the country. The achievement in such a short time of significant legislation that requires all sides to accept risk and compromise with people they had been fighting only a few months ago is remarkable. It would have been unattainable without the change in strategy and addition of American forces that helped bring the violence down.
The authors pass off the bill’s problems by noting that the “legislation is imperfect, of course.” But many Sunni and Shiite officials have stated that the bill “could actually exclude more former Baathists than it lets back in, particularly in the crucial security ministries.” In fact, as Middle East expert Juan Cole has noted, the legislation was actually spearheaded by the most anti-Baathist groups and opposed by former Baathists.
Keane, Kagan, and O’Hanlon don’t let these concerns interfere with their sunny assessment, however, briefly writing that this “possible problem” will need to be “cleared up.” Last week, Kagan compared the bill to “the beginning of their [Iraqi] civil rights legislation.”
Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno know the strains the surge has placed on the military and believe that we can reduce our forces to pre-surge levels by this summer without compromising our gains. Considering the big steps taken by Iraqi security forces over the past year, as well as the tremendous damage our forces and Iraqi forces, together with the Iraqi people, have done to al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni Baathist insurgency, Iranian-backed special groups and the fighting elements of the Jaish al-Mahdi, this belief is probably justified. But we cannot be sure.
Absent from the online version — but present in the print edition — is the authors’ call to “plan to stay heavily engaged in Iraq for several more years.”
While Keane, Kagan, and O’Hanlon herald the Bush administration’s “ongoing engagement,” it’s important to remember that President Bush’s former appointee Paul Bremer was responsible for de-Baathification in the first place. In 2003, Bremer issued a sweeping order that outlawed Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party and dismissed all senior members from government posts. (This point is acknowledged in the online version of the op-ed, but is notably absent from the print version.)
UPDATE: Boston University professor Andrew J. Bacevich also writes an op-ed entitled “Surge to Nowhere” today in the Post: “In only one respect has the surge achieved undeniable success: It has ensured that U.S. troops won’t be coming home anytime soon. This was one of the main points of the exercise in the first place.”
UPDATE II: The Group News Blog has more on how the surge is supposedly “working.”