The Victory of Surgism

This Newsweek passage seems like a good reflection of the current CW:

Biden, it should be noted, has not always showed the most clear-eyed judgment. In 1990 he voted against American involvement in the first Gulf war, which turned out to be a relatively low-cost success, whereas he voted for the invasion of Iraq, which turned into a near fiasco. He opposed the 2007 Iraq surge, which rescued the American effort from near defeat.

I’m not going to defend the admittedly odd record of opposing Gulf War I and favoring Gulf War II. But it’s fascinating to me that “the surge”—which at enormous fiscal and human cost appears to me to have done nothing whatsoever to improve the welfare of a single American on the planet, while leading to exactly the collapse of the American position in Afghanistan that its critics warned against—has been unequivocally ratified in the US media as a success. It’s completely true that many of the more dire predictions of surge critics, myself included, didn’t prove true. At the same time, if the United States had spent 2007 and 2008 engaged in a phased draw-down of forces in Iraq this would have saved lives, saved money, possibly saved the war in Afghanistan, done no harm to American interests, and we very possibly would have seen the exact same decline in violence in Iraq.

But even if we wouldn’t have, I’ve never heard a surge proponent even attempt to sketch out a cost-benefit analysis in which the surge was remotely successful. I suppose I’m done fighting this battle. “Everyone” now agrees that the surge was a “success” because it helped us avoid “defeat” and David Petraeus is a “brilliant general” because, ultimately, a lot of foreign policy is basically oriented around making people feel good about the hegemonic post-Cold War American military project. In late-2006, Iraq was a feel-bad scenario for Americans whereas by the end of 2008 it had become a feel-good scenario, a fun story of adaptation to circumstances and how gritty determination led to triumph over adversity. But to me it mostly seems like a demonstration of how detached our conversation of about defense policy is from anything concrete.