Friday, April 13, 2007

Views on the surge


The latest play-by-play on whether Bush's last chance is working:

Killings are down significantly in Baghdad -- 1,586 in the past two months, down from 2,871 in the two months before that.

But that's still an unacceptably high number, and in part the killing has merely shifted to other, less well-defended areas -- killings elsewhere are up by 500 people in that period. Still, as proof of concept, it's not bad. The idea all along was to secure Baghdad and then expand that security outward to the rest of the country.

What it does demonstrate, however, is that it will take far more troops to get killings in Baghdad down to a reasonable level -- never mind reduce killings elsewhere. Which has always been the suspected weakness of the surge: that it's too small, and unsustainable even so.

Unsurprisingly, Charles Krauthammer swears the surge is working. His evidence is skimpy: mostly military claims that Anbar Province, once almost given up for lost, has now "turned the corner." Even if true -- and Krauthammer places a lot of significance on what could easily be taken as light-on-details military "happy talk" -- it has little to do with the surge. It is good news that 14 of 18 Sunni tribes in Anbar have finally gotten sick of Al-Qaeda; but it remains to be seen whether that situation will hold, it doesn't address the problem with native Iraq insurgents, and it's unclear whether it holds relevance for the Sunni/Shiite sectarian violence that has been the prime driver of violence of late. If you believe that AQ is largely responsible for that violence, great; if you believe the violence is more broadly rooted than that, trouble.

He also cites news reports that various neighborhoods in Baghdad are safer than they were a few weeks ago -- which dovetails well with the reduced death toll.

Ironically, both developments, in passing, destroy two arguments advanced by war supporters.

The killing data from Baghdad further drives a stake into the ridiculous idea that Baghdad is only slightly more dangerous than some major American cities, even the reduced death rate translates to about 9,500 killings a year in a city of 7 million. By comparison, New York City endured 596 murders in 2006.

And the "Sunnis turning on AQ" news contradicts the idea that if we withdraw from Iraq, it will became a haven for Al-Qaeda. This is further refuted by the aftermath of the Parliament bombing. The local AQ affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack, which drew bipartisan criticism from prominent Iraqis -- emphasized by an unprecedented Friday session of Parliament. There are still major questions over how the bomber gained access to the Parliament building -- dark actions that could mean more than the encouraging lip service paid today. But unanimous condemnation is a starting point.

Whatever reasons we have to stay in Iraq, preventing it from becoming a safe haven for terrorism is not one of them.

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