The War in Iraq: an assessment of President Bush's surge strategy
Previously published on August 11, 2008
While many consider the withdrawal of US military forces from Vietnam in 1973 to be a defeat, others would argue the failure occurred when the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed and the use of "search and destroy" tactics were adopted, but the official failure occurred in 1975 when the country fell to communist rule. Due to the final Bush military surge, along with the Sons of Iraq Awakening, the strengthening of the Iraqi army, and the dispersal of the Mahdi Army, Iraq has come to know the beginning of stability and peace. On the other hand, stability under the presence of US troopers hardly marks the end of Iraq's problems while the occupation continues to be a long drawn out failure on behalf of the Bush administration with costs unaccounted for continuing to mount.
As an election season pushes the al-Maliki government to end the American occupation, the Forty-fourth President of the United States will have to decide the policies that determine our future relationship with Iraq and how we will limit the impact of the costs from this conflict. Ignoring the full recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton commission, the Bush administration's accelerated stay-the-course policy has had the fortune of enjoying an environment that may well lead to a stable and peaceful Iraq in the mid-term, but the war is incomplete. The Commander and Chief must ensure Iraq can stand on its own if our investments are to yield some returns while overstaying our welcome may well cause instability to resurge. In order to find true success in Iraq, there must continue to be gains in security along with a political resolution between national leaders as well a cultural resolution between Sunnis and Shi'ites while success may not mean a strong, peaceful democracy as various leaders supporting the continuing war envision.
Deploying an adequate military force after five years to suppress insurgent activity has demonstrated the US military is clearly capable of tackling any objective while the success of the Surge, the Iraqi army, the Awakening against Al Qaeda, and the dispersal of the Mahdi Army has produced incredible gains. Unfortunately, the Bush administration chose to waste the opportunity by failing to help facilitate a political reconciliation with a political surge, where high level officials, such the Secretary of State, would personally and intensively focus on the situation. After the eventual US troop drawdown, a return to chaos coupled with the arming of the Sunni majority by Americans as well as the potential reappearance of insurgents could turn the country into a failed state with the Sunni majority slaughtering the isolated Shi'ite minority. Alternatively, a weak government could lead the army, as the only truly effective organization, to orchestrate a military coup against the democratic government while an anti-American, even anti-Western, government could easily emerge. In the latter scenario, Iran would be in the best position to expand its influence in the region and assert greater control over global energy.
The potential cost of the Bush war policy are still unclear as many of the Administration's policies tend to immediately yield very positive results then end in catastrophic failure, but the current costs are well known. As trillions of dollars in debt have been placed on the shoulders of young Americans with fewer economic opportunities available, the rising generations must also cope with social costs associated with increasing death tolls of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan while disabled troops add stress to already burdened health care systems and families. Beyond qualitative costs, America has lost diplomatic strength due to the Bush administration's impetuous and ill-conceived behavior while unlikely reprisal from US military forces has allowed Iran and North Korea to become nuclear threats. Furthermore, a lack of US influence has facilitated the rise of humanitarian crises, such as the ones in Darfur, Zimbabwe, and Myanmar (Burma), with fewer opportunities for these global issues to be resolved.
Throughout the 2008 Presidential Campaign, Senator John McCain has claimed Senator Barack Obama is planning to win Afghanistan by losing Iraq. Unfortunately, the protracted Iraq occupation in terms of wars has cost the United States greatly. While increasing violence and instability in Afghanistan can likely be contributed to over focusing on Iraq, greater stability in Iraq will allow troops to be shifted to Afghanistan. Then again, because the US military needs rebuilt and overstressed troops must have rest, Afghanistan will be the final step in the Bush global "War on Terror," and thus, America has lost a war. Meanwhile, the decreases in US influence and military presence have allowed anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism to become popular. Additionally, anti-democratic movements in Russia and the reassertion of socialism in South America via President Huego Chave of Venezuela, along with the economic rise of Communist China, contribute to the diminishment of world wide human, civil, and cultural rights. Moreover, the world has experienced a partial reversal of the Cold War victory.
The 2007 military surge in Iraq was successful while the US must soon begin withdrawing military forces for better or worse as it is the will of the American and Iraqi people. With a future uncertain and unnecessary costs still mounting, the Bush Iraq War can never truthfully be called a victory while a failed state could still emerge. Wasting its final opportunity to facilitate political and cultural reconciliation may well be what leads to a complete failure of the Bush Administration's policies. Iraq's future now demands solely on the Iraqi people and their ability to build a future while the Forty-fourth US President must decide what is the best possible relationship for Iraq and the United States. More importantly, the President will be the one to decide how America will minimize the costs of the war and reshape US foreign policy in a pivotal time when global climate change, terrorism, anti-democratization, anti-Americanism, faltering economies, and emerging crises threaten US security as well as world cohesion.