5 thoughts on “The Surge”

  1. dan,

    Cheers for the link!

    Do you read “Shia” writers like Foad Ajami and Vali Nasr? How do you see the Anbar Awakening in terms of the Shia-Sunni divide and the new regional geo-politics of the “Shia Revival” / Shia Crescent?

  2. Nice read. So Hadley, Crouch, Luti, O'Sullivan and Feaver were the NSC crew. Other than Petraeus, Kagan and Kaplan, who were the “loosely knit group of retired Army officers and civilian experts”? Referring to high-profile McCaffrey and Downing, or other, quieter retirees?

  3. Hate to admit it, but Fred Barnes has written a decent piece. But, I read this as a description of how a coalition of military and civilian personnel shook the administration out of the Rumsfeld-Cheney vision of the war, informed by the doctrine of 'transformation' which is completely anti-COIN. It is true that the Surge is the great policy success of the 2nd term. But, it should have come far far earlier. I don't think this one should be chalked up to Bush, but rather to Petraeus and Gates who really made it happen. Bush would truly deserve the credit for this if he rethought how other Depts functioned in Iraq and kept building momentum.

  4. Stephen,

    For someone who comes across just terribly on television, Fred Barnes is an excellent writer.

    Bush stuck out his neck and found the right sub-executives years late. I think that's a balanced assessment.

    And far more than I, or many others, expected, or would have done.


    You seem to know way more than me!


    Haven't read Ajami and Nasr.

    My first two years as a teaching assistant at Nebraska, I would make a point of spending at least one session on the Sunni/Shia/Kurdish split in Iraq, as an example of balance-of-power. I had Iraq War vets who told me this was the first they heard of it, so clearly there's a lot of word that needs to get out.

    While all the Iranians I have met in person have been absolutely wonderful, the “word” one hears is that Persians are a very ethnocentric people… one of my Persian friends told me that Arabs are “very low people”… if rumor and anecdote are fact and evidence, then the Shia revival will be hampered by the racial split.

  5. Dan,

    You're right, I know Barnes only from Beltway Boys with Mort Kondracke. Didn't know about the writing. And agreed on a fair and balanced (pun intended?) assessment of the war.

    Also, Sunni-Shiite-Kurd is a great way to describe Balance of Power. But, as pointed out, it gets interesting if you go inside these identities and see their divisions. Muqtada al-Sadr seems to be trying to separate himself from 'special groups' that work with Iran.[1] Movements like his are the spoilers of the Shia Revival, and it will be interesting to see how Sadr's success can cause it to unravel.

    Newsweek. “The Great Moqtada Makeover.” Babak Dehghanpisheh. 1/19/07 http://www.newsweek.com/id/96370/output/print

  6. Although he has taken much support from Iran, there is an essential stress between Sadr (and for that matter all Iraqi Shia's) and the Mullah's in Iran. The source of the stress is the primacy of Najaf as a center of Shia religion over the religious city Qom in Iran which feeds right into the Persian-Arab split. Najaf is clearly a more important city to the Shias and whith Shia's now in power, particularly in Najaf, this lowers the legitimization that Qom offers the Persians as the standard-bearers of Shiism.

    (I still hat Sadr)

  7. I don't read al-Sadr as the ruin of the Shia revival. The Anbar Awakening must, to some extent at least, make the (Iraqi) Shia nervous — and who can blame them for that? The new reality of Iraq, however, is that there exists a balance of terror. This is quite new. There's no way that the Sunni minority can now take Iraq back to Tikriti totalitarianism, and al-Sadr and the Badr Brigades are part of the reason why. According to Ajami, Iraqi Shiites refer to what they call the “second betrayal” — the point when the US started talking to the Sunni insurgents. They came to believe that, contra Sistani, they have to take responsibility for their own security, and to a certain extent they have. Therefore, whatever happens, there is no going back to Saddam's Iraq.


    I think you have it half-right, but it's a bit more complicated. For one thing, there are lots of Iraqi clerics in Qom. For another thing, there are lots of Iranians in Najaf — such as Sistani. I expect that this linkage will increase in the forseeable future.

  8. ElamBend,

    Well said. Further, Iran's traditional ally in Iraq is Dawa and its traditional client is the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (formerly SCIRI)… Sadr's outside the structure, knows it, and so is forced into relatively riskier strategies.


    I wonder to what extent the Awakening was made possible by the removal of Shia treats to Sunni communities (that is, marginal areas had been resolved either one way to another, so the tribal power structure focused on the internal threat of a Qaedist revolution against the external threat of Shia hostility).

  9. dan,

    Doesn't that leave an unsupportable implicit counterfactual: that the insurgency began in response to threats to the Sunni community from the Shia community?

  10. vimothy,

    “Doesn't that leave an unsupportable implicit counterfactual: that the insurgency began in response to threats to the Sunni community from the Shia community?”

    Sunni Arabs ran the country, and directly the majority of its resources to themselves. However, they were a 15% minority, and after the country was conquered and the Army disbanded, it was naturally assumed by the Shia that they were the next ruling class. The Sunni Arabs found themselves in a bad situation where a do-nothing approach reduces their share of distributable national wealth from near 100% to about 15%, and began a high-risk strategy aimed at throwing out the Americans quickly enough such that would retain the organizational capacity to resume control.

    The strategy was a sensible one for their position, and relied on America relying on a “light-footprint” strategy while remaining suspicious of Iran.

    Unfortunately for them, Bush and Zarqawi did not cooperate.

  11. Dan,

    Agreed. Personally suspect that the Anbar Awakening stems from the failure of the insurgency, the exhaustion of Sunni insurgents, the recognition that the US isn't going anywhere soon, and the recognition that inclusion in the political process brings greater returns. But I'm not sure how much the COIN affected relaxation of sectarian conflict has to do with that.

    OT: what do you teach?

  12. vimothy,

    Excellent comment.

    I was thinking of the resolution of disputes in terms of ethnic cleansing, rather than more touchy-feeling approaches.

    I was a recitation leader for International Relations for two semesters, and then American Government for two years. This year I am writing and executing the online curriculum of a graduate-level aimed at in-service teachers.

  13. “I wonder to what extent the Awakening was made possible by the removal of Shia treats to Sunni communities”

    The Shia threat to Sunni communities CAUSED the Awakening.

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