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Democrats should look for the end of the surge
Scripps Howard News Service


March 09, 2007
Friday AM

Trying to figure out what to do about President Bush's failed Iraq policies, congressional Democrats and many Republicans have correctly focused on The Surge - Bush's dispatch of some 20,000 more troops to mostly wage short-term urban combat.

But they have focused on the wrong end of it.

The Bush policy critics have focused on the beginning of The Surge. Mainly, how to stop this mission that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and many retired and still-serving generals warned is unlikely to succeed and may help terrorists and insurgents recruit new followers.

gif surge

Democrats and Iraq Surge
Artist Daryl Cagle,
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons Inc.

But the point where congressional focus, action and perhaps intervention will be needed is not the beginning but the end of The Surge. That key decision point will be upon us in just months.

Our new man in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, who is widely regarded as the military's best at counterinsurgency, believes he has designed a new strategy that can make this surge succeed - and he says we will see evidence of its success (or failure) this summer. America's new (more flexible and reasonable) defense secretary, Robert Gates, has said so too.

How will we know if The Surge is succeeding? Success, in this instance, is relatively easy to define: The surge must significantly reduce the violence that has been shredding Iraq, a virtual civil war that, left unchecked, will likely mean the failure of the Bush-Cheney war that has claimed more than 3,000 American lives.

But with summer's end just six months away, we have heard next to nothing from Democrats or Republicans about what the Congress should do come September. Democrats, whose leaders once promised not to cut funding while troops are in combat, are now divided between those who want to cut funding and those who still say no.

But they cannot stop The Surge - and their real leadership will be needed in a few months. Meanwhile, their planning and preparing of the nation for what is to come is needed right now. Because, if The Surge proves unsuccessful, Democrats and many Republicans will have to step up and lead a nation whose president has refused to face the facts of his failure and seems to have no Plan B in case this last desperate surge fails. The strategy behind The Surge is basic: Joint U.S. and Iraqi troops will enter sectors controlled by Shiite militia or which are sanctuaries of Sunni insurgents; it's been done before. But instead of sweeping the area and leaving, allowing anti-government militia or insurgents to return and create new violence, this time they will set up a small U.S.-Iraqi army headquarters and stay.

It sounds so basic that you'd think America's top generals in Iraq would have been doing it that way from the get-go - instead of permitting the same enemy ebb and flow that made Vietnam what it is today.

The first foray of The Surge occurred just the other day, with little notice - and not a single casualty. A joint U.S.-Iraqi force moved into Baghdad's impoverished Shiite sector, Sadr City, home of the Mahdi Army militia loyal to militant anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But when The Surge arrived, the militia was nowhere to be seen. Twice before the militia had melted away when U.S. troops arrived - only to return stronger than ever, after the U.S. troops moved on. This time a small headquarters is being set up. Will it keep the sector secure, as Gen. Petraeus believes, or become an inviting target for future militia/insurgent attacks? We don't know today - but we will know in six months. It seems improbable, but not impossible, that this surge can succeed. Politically, Democrats cannot afford to be seen as the party that preached gloom and doom - before an improbable success is achieved. Geopolitically, no one in either party wants Iraq to collapse and al Qaeda to gain a new safe haven for attacking America, Europe and beyond.

One who gets it is Michael O'Hanlon, a savvy senior analyst with the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank that is never confused with Bush-conservative cheerleading. In a March 1 Wall Street Journal op-ed, he wrote: "There are good reasons to give the war effort...another six to nine months before concluding that the current strategy should be discarded..." Six months seems a worthwhile wait and prudent risk. One last chance to see if a new clear-thinking general can make the improbable succeed where his predecessors failed in Iraq.

Democratic leaders need to forego the grandstanding and spotlight that marker. If it is not met, they need to be prepared to take command of a wayward commander-in-chief.


Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.
E-mail him at martin.schram(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

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