Posner on the Pundits’ “Surge of Ignorance”

by Kevin Jon Heller

Eric Posner has a new post at The Volokh Conspiracy, “Surge of Ignorance,” in which he quotes a number of New York Times columnists expressing skepticism toward the surge and then links — in a different color font, for emphasis — to a NYT article entitled “U.S. Hands off Pacified Anbar, Once Heart of Iraqi Insurgency.”  Posner offers no editorial comment, but his implication is clear: all of the columnists are ignorant, because the surge has reduced violence in Iraq and is thus a success.

It’s a clever post, even if it distorts the rationale of the surge and selectively quotes the columnists to obscure the basis for their criticism.  Here, then, is my follow up:

“I’ve been clear with each Iraqi leader I meet: America is a patient nation, and Iraq
can count on our partnership, as long as the new government continues to make the
hard decisions necessary to advance a unified, democratic and peaceful Iraq.”
President Bush, Address to the American Legion National Convention, 8/31/06

“The president has made very clear…that American patience is limited. And
obviously, if the Iraqis fail to maintain their commitments, we will have to revisit our
strategy.” Secretary Gates, HASC hearing, 1/11/07

“As more breathing space is created by reducing the sectarian violence, Iraq’s leaders
have got to take advantage of that breathing space. I have made it abundantly clear to
the Prime Minister that our patience is not unlimited; that we fully recognize that
there has to be political progress and economic progress, along with military progress,
in order for that government to succeed.” President Bush, Discussion on Global War on
Terror, East Grand Rapids, Michigan, 4/20/07

“Without political progress it’s going to be hard to achieve a military victory in Iraq.”
President Bush, Press Conference, the Pentagon, 5/10/07

“Clearly we do have leverage, and we do use it. I mean, the presence of 160,000
troops is a lot of leverage. And you know, we are using those troops for their security.
That gives us, again, not only the opportunity but the obligation to tell them they’ve
got to use the space they’re getting to move forward.” Amb Crocker, Joint HASC/HFAC
hearing, 9/10/07

“The Iraq situation cannot be won by military means alone. There has to be political
reconciliation to go with it…I fully understand those who say you can’t win this thing
militarily…That’s why it’s very important that we continue to work with the Iraqis on
economic progress, as well as political progress.” President Bush, Press Conference, the
White House, 10/17/07

“Now what we have to continue to focus on is the implementation of these laws,
which is now the next step. We had the laws passed. It’s now most important that we
go through now the implementation of these.” Gen Odierno, SASC Hearing, 4/3/08

Top Iraqis Pull Back from Key U.S. Goal: Reconciliation Seen Unattainable Amid Struggle for Power — Washington Post, 10/8/07

US Scales Back Goals for Iraqi Unity — New York Times, 10/25/07

Reconciliation Conference Highlights Iraq’s Deep Political, Religious Fissures — New York Times, 3/19/08


12 Responses

  1. Response…
    I do not understand.  Is your point that the surge did not work?

  2. Boo hoo. The surge sceptics were wrong. Deal with it. Instead of making ex post ‘explanations’ of why it succeeded coincidentally entirely independent of American intervention, or else that it was “not enough”, nevermind the Iraqis slowly but surely coming to political entente, having bought time as a result of the surge. The gains, while fragile, are real. This transparent yearning for American failure undermines your credibility.

  3. Dreadnaught,

    My point is that although it has (marginally) improved security, the surge has completely failed to achieve the objectives that the Bush administration set out for it — namely, political reconciliation.  So it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a success.

    Oh dear,

    There are no political gains.  Your claim to the contrary, unsupported by any evidence other than your wishful thinking, undermines your credibility.

  4. “My point is that although it has (marginally) improved security, the surge has completely failed to achieve the objectives that the Bush administration set out for it — namely, political reconciliation.  So it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a success.”

    Abject nonsense. The objectives were not solely political reconciliation, as you would like the rehashed narrative to be. In a 2007 address prior to the surge, Bush makes the aims of the surge apparent — to thwart Al Qaeda in Iraq in its attempt to turn the Sunni hinterland into a lawless terrorist-breeding region as Afghanistan was prior to 2001:

    “As we make these changes, we will continue to pursue al Qaeda and foreign fighters. Al Qaeda is still active in Iraq. Its home base is Anbar Province. Al Qaeda has helped make Anbar the most violent area of Iraq outside the capital. A captured al Qaeda document describes the terrorists’ plan to infiltrate and seize control of the province. This would bring al Qaeda closer to its goals of taking down Iraq’s democracy, building a radical Islamic empire, and launching new attacks on the United States at home and abroad. 

    “Our military forces in Anbar are killing and capturing al Qaeda leaders, and they are protecting the local population. Recently, local tribal leaders have begun to show their willingness to take on al Qaeda. And as a result, our commanders believe we have an opportunity to deal a serious blow to the terrorists. So I have given orders to increase American forces in Anbar Province by 4,000 troops. These troops will work with Iraqi and tribal forces to keep up the pressure on the terrorists. America’s men and women in uniform took away al Qaeda’s safe haven in Afghanistan — and we will not allow them to re-establish it in Iraq.”

    Part of the aims of the surge was political reconciliation, but it would be more than a little exaggeration to assert that the immediate, foremost aims of the surge was not to route Al Qaeda in Anbar and the Sunni hinterland. On that front, it has been a qualified success. Bringing the Sunnis back into the political fold is surely a progressive if incremental step in the right direction, when all seemed lost before.

    Bottom line: your categorical assertions of ‘failure’ is so much drivel. Try being objective once in a while. It helps.

  5. Yeah, other than those nine quotes, what evidence is there that the primary motivation for the surge was to allow the Iraqis to achieve political reconciliation?

  6. As an aside, it really is pitiful that individuals who offer little more than an endless stream of ad hominem attacks on me always post anonymously.  That is, of course, their right.  But it says far more about them than about me.  I have never posted nor commented anywhere anonymously — and I never will.  I stand behind what I say, unlike so many others.

  7. What “nine” quotes? I quoted two paragraphs from a speech prior to the surge in 2007, setting out the aims of the surge. Those quotes are direct evidence — on record — of Bush’s intent which you now feign to disregard.

    I note also that you’ve deleted the link to an LATimes article evincing political progress in Iraq, and the attendant criticism of your overwrought, categorical assertion of there being “no” political progress — none at all! — in Iraq. Those were fair substantive criticisms, which you now seek to evade by playing the ad hominem card (as usual). Posner the Younger took justified glee in the ignorance of the pundits. You’d think that his point would be well-taken by now.

    As an aside: your irrelevant attack on the anonymity of commentators is itself ad hominem (“says more about them blah blah”). Please take your own advice.

  8. I see. You were referring to your own nine quotes. A pointless response seeing as I’ve said, quite clearly, that political reconciliation was “part of” — but not solely — the aims of the surge. Since the thwarting of Al Qaeda in the Sunni hinterland was one major, immediate prong of the surge’s purpose, it follows that the folding of the Sunnis back into the political process — and the derailment of Al Qaeda’s attempt to turn Anbar into a second Afghanistan circa 2000 — is a qualified success.

    In a counterinsurgency, military success is at least partly political, and political success partially beholden to applications of military power. The success of one naturally presages the (partial) success of the other. This is consistent with my (now deleted) statement that the more impartial observer would find tentative, patchy, and unbalanced progress on the political front — but not “no progress” whatsoever.

  9. Oh dear,

    What is the LA Times article?  Could you link to it again please? I haven’t found any recent articles that comprehensively discuss the political situation in Iraq–just scattered facts across various articles.

    And, just ignore KJH’s little “anonymous” rant.  He likes to play that card when he gets called out.

  10. Thus speaks the other anonymous commenter…

  11. But Humble Law Student is right: I do find ad hominem attacks annoying when they come from people who don’t have the courage to identify themselves.  Criticize my ideas all you want.  At least you know who you’re criticizing.

  12. Barack Obama on the surge:

    I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated,’ and ‘I’ve already said it’s succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

    This is the first time I have heard him acknowledge this.  But the following is also included in fairness (despite my use of a pseudonym), as Sen. Obama practically quotes Prof Heller:

    SEN. OBAMA: Because there is an underlying problem with what we’ve done. We have reduced the violence —
    MR. O’REILLY: Yeah?
    SEN. OBAMA: — but the Iraqis still haven’t taken a responsibility. And we still don’t have the kind of political reconciliation. We are still spending, Bill, 10 (billion dollars) to $12 billion a month.
    [Italics added]

    There is obviously a way to go yet, but handing over Anbar and potentially Baghdad certainly suggests the security gains are also producing, or allowing, political improvements.

    -Diplomatic Gunboat

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