The House of Cards

When the “surge” was announced, the theory was that more troops would create more security which would lead to political reconciliation. I thought this was backwards — the violence was caused not be “insecurity” but by political conflict and absent reconciliation, more troops would just be more targets. Clearly, things have worked out better than I thought they would. But what the surge’s proponents claimed hasn’t happened either. Instead, the Army has shown itself to be much more capable of producing tactical security gains unrelated to the underlying political situation than I would have guessed. But just as I guessed, this has done nothing to resolve the political conflicts. And it’s still true, analytically, that it’s political conflicts that drive violence rather than insecurity driving political conflict. Thus we’ve created a situation where violence may return along any number of different axes.

Brian Katulis, Marc Lynch, and Peter Juul have an excellent new report that lays out the dimensions of political conflict in Iraq — something that’s much more complicated than the vision of an “enemy” against which we may achieve “victory” in Iraq — and shows the deep underlying instability. The three authors, like me, all believe in a fairly rapid withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, though one should concede that to some extent the analysis cuts in both directions as far as withdrawal goes.