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The Flawed Surge
Published on Friday, March 2, 2007 by
The Flawed Surge
by Lt. Gen. Robert Gard and Travis Sharp

The arrival of General David Petraeus, a student of classic counterinsurgency theory, as commander of the Multinational Force in Iraq appears to be the Bush administration’s attempt to cheat off the smartest kid in class during the final examination. After years of flawed strategy, however, Bush and his advisers cannot plagiarise their way to a passing grade this late in the semester.

Petraeus’ diligent scholarship is outlined in the counterinsurgency manual he authored last year. His vision revolves around protecting and securing the civilian population in Iraq, a marked improvement over the previous US approach of winning skirmishes only to cough up cleared areas to insurgents after moving elsewhere.

The White House may legitimately believe that Petraeus’ term paper is the antidote to three-and-a-half years of American procrastination, but by now Iraq has devolved into a Hobbesian war of all against all. After employing aggressive tactics with heavy firepower that killed and wounded thousands of civilians, American policymakers may not convince Iraqis with their sudden fondness for population protection.

Consider the discrepancies between previous counterinsurgencies and the current situation on the ground in Iraq. A recent study by the Brookings Institution evaluated a number of civil wars and concluded that, historically speaking, 520,000 US soldiers would be required to provide the soldier to civilian ratio necessary to secure the population and isolate it from guerrillas. This number could be reduced if Iraqi Security Forces were truly in the lead as the Bush administration claims, but the reality is that these soldiers often place sectarian allegiances over loyalty to a unified Iraq.

The assumption that insurgents will just sit around in Baghdad waiting to be isolated and eliminated is also grossly unrealistic. In all likelihood, the Baghdad-centric strategy proposed by Bush will push insurgents out of the city and into the surrounding provinces of al-Anbar, Diyala, and Salah ad Din. Since the force ratios required to protect civilians in these sparsely populated regions are beyond the proposed injection of 4,000 Marines into al-Anbar, the US will probably get stuck playing provincial “whack-a-mole”: insurgents will be suppressed in one area only to re-emerge somewhere else.

More than three-quarters of Iraqis believe that violence will subside once American troops leave. Since most American leaders agree that Iraqis must assume control of their security situation sooner rather than later, why do we continue to ignore the wishes of the Iraqi people?

It is not a shortcoming in spirit or willpower that dooms Bush’s troop increase in Iraq but an irretrievable deterioration in the situation on the ground. American lessons learned will be important next time around under the subsequent administration, but it is too late for the Bush administration to cram its way to success on the shoulders of a warrior-intellectual like Petraeus.

The US must begin leaving Iraq to force both the Iraqis and the international community to step up to the plate. Injecting additional American soldiers into this raging sectarian tempest is a gamble with no historical precedent for success. A diplomatic initiative, regional US counterterrorism operations, and substantial economic assistance can help to mitigate the fallout.

Hopefully Iraqis will discover the path to peace when they can no longer use the US as a crutch. Hopefully the international community will feel obligated to intervene and prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and instability throughout the region. In any event, the uncertain future of Iraq cannot be accurately addressed while the primary problem remains uncorrected. As long as the US remains, nothing can be resolved.

Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard, Jr served as former military assistant to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, former president of National Defense University, and is currently the Senior Military Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Travis Sharp is the Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Copyright 2007

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