Via Matt Duss, a great map showing rather conclusively that those who warned withdrawal advocates that the result of leaving Iraq would be ethnic cleansing got their continued war, but also their ethnic cleansing as well. We can also see the dubious success of the surge here. The level of violence kept going up during the early surge months and seems to have died down because the radical decline in the number of mixed communities has reduced the opportunities for violence.
I don’t get the sense that when people talk about “the success of the surge” that this is the sort of thing they have in mind.
But whether or not you want to characterize walling off Baghdad into a series of separated, segregated neighborhoods while the government remains dominated by a sectarian clique and unable to actually govern in vast swathes of the country (areas where rival cliques rule through force) as “success” this is the new reality. And, of course, for liberals part of that new reality is that the levels of violence really are much lower than they used to be. It’s still really violent in that, for example:
At least 20 people were killed or found dead in and around Baquba, the largest city in Diyala Province, which is north of Baghdad. The police said that a suicide motorcycle bomber killed at least seven people and wounded 24 in one of the city’s markets. Six were killed in two separate shootouts. Two died from roadside bombs and the authorities found six bodies in two locations on the city’s western outskirts.
That, however, isn’t typical anymore. The question is what, if anything, follows from that. Iraq might go back to falling apart at the seams if we leave. On the other hand, it might go back to falling apart at the seams even if we stay. The extent of our impact on the situation isn’t clear. What is clear is that the political causes of the conflict are still in place, which is why the violence continues to persist, albeit at a lower level.
Given that, I’d be happy to keep our troops in the country for some reasonably short period of time if there were some reasonable prospects that doing so would push the situation over a positive tipping point where political reconciliation lays the groundwork for lasting peace. But according to our current policy’s architects that’s not on the table and, instead, their belief is that military engagement will need to continue for over a decade to bring about their desired results. That’s not an idea that makes sense to me. The costs would be enormous. And the time-frame itself would be enormous. If American troops just vanished tomorrow maybe Iraq would be at peace again in 10–15 years. There’d be no way of telling if we were really doing any good.
Now if you think it’s strategically useful for the United States to be engaged in the military occupation of a medium-sized country in the Persian Gulf region, then things look different. By I think it’s strategically bonkers — making our al-Qaeda problem worse at vast cost for no good reason — and the “surge” policy itself isn’t promising “success” in the “let’s keep doing this for a bit longer and then we’ll have won” sense, it’s promising to have laid the groundwork for an extremely prolonged new occupation phase that we shouldn’t undertake.