07 September 2007

Friday PS: The "surge" is not a failure!

I keep getting e-mails from political action groups urging me to sign petitions about the failure of the Bush-inspired "surge" of occupation forces in Iraq, and the consequent need to pull forces out quickly.

For God's sake, don't give in to this oversimplified and easily countered rhetoric. The failure is not in the escalation at all, based on the military logic involved. Wherever troop levels have been increased, it may well be possible to show an increase in security. Militarily, the surge has accomplished all that it can do. The soldiers have not failed to do what is in their power to do. Yes, the statistics have been spun wildly, as many pundits argue, but whether the overall Iraqi death toll is somewhat up or somewhat down, it is hard to argue with the U.S. administration when they say things are better than they would have been without those additional soldiers.

Arguing about the success or failure of the escalation traps us critics within the rhetorical frame of the administration. The issue has always been that the war itself, and the ongoing occupation, are utterly flawed--in philosophy, morality, legitimacy, implementation, and lack of exit strategy. The surge itself has succeeded brilliantly in buying President Bush half a year or more of stalling time. As with each phase of his previous stalling tactics, the realities of logistics and security impose a double-ratchet logic: We cannot leave until numerous intermediate conditions are right, and assessing or implementing those intermediate conditions can be postponed by any number of short-term political maneuvers, so the actual exit can continue to be postponed indefinitely. Even the Pentagon, by all accounts, is beginning to lose patience with this reality (red flag: after all, the rumored attack on Iran will require some of the assets now trapped in Iraq!).

For example, the administration absurdly maintains that the Iraqi government must achieve certain criteria of viability before we can withdraw. Why should we assume that any sane centrist Iraqi politician would definitely wish for his or her government to meet those criteria if the alternative is to allow the USA to continue pouring its resources into the country? Well, in fact, there are reasons for Iraqi centrists to wish for our departure, but the point is that the incentives on the Iraqi side to help us out are not clear at all.

Some argue that the early stages of a withdrawal should be marked by a change in occupation force mission from combat to support. What does that mean? I have never believed that American forces are so much more skilled at soldiering that they are indispensable as "support." Are there not Iraqis who know how to teach both military skills and military discipline? (If not, what have we been doing all these years? Who will account for all the resources we've already poured in to date?) The only legitimate mission for American forces in Iraq is to carry out an orderly and secure withdrawal; let the politicians in Iraq decide how to configure their own country and how to come to terms with the post-occupation insurgents.

After all, barring the use of wholesale slaughter and massive increases in imprisonment, the surge can, in the long run, only succeed in pushing opposition forces into a waiting mode. Even a new Iraqi military and police force will be no stronger or more stable than the political forces controlling them, and there is no guarantee that those forces will embrace values congenial to today's White House. In any case, that White House has not demonstrated:
  • any willingness to be candid with us critics, or do anything other than talk down to us
  • readiness to submit to public accountability for the disastrous deployment of precious national resources or the compromise of Constitutional values
  • the capacity to assess conditions in Iraq competently or even to argue intelligently (depending for that mostly on pro-administration pundits);
and therefore, any continuation of the surge, or of the occupation generally, that depends on the President's good judgment, should be rejected.

Don't blame the surge; blame the surgeon. (And all those who've abdicated civilian oversight of the military, congressional oversight over the executive, and the people's oversight over the whole show. Hey, that's US.)

Afternoon PS: I'm not the only one who feels this way.

As a Christian pacifist, I have very mixed feelings about wading into a discussion of how to deploy or withdraw military forces. But soldiers are people, too. Family members of readers of this blog are serving in Iraq. Those soldiers deserve our full and active attention as citizens. We, the people they are presumably defending, must do our part--exerting our rightful accountability over those who sent our soldiers into danger.


Anonymous said...

You write, "The issue has always been that the war itself, and the ongoing occupation, are utterly flawed--in philosophy, morality, legitimacy, implementation, and lack of exit strategy." This of course leaves the door open to the argument that if a war lacks such flaws, it is justifiable.

I personally would prefer to say, We are commanded with Peter to put up our swords, we are commanded not to fight for the kingdoms of this world, but to be unresisting toward evil and turn the other cheek, and therefore we may not engage in this or any war, no matter how justifiable.

Anonymous said...


Thank you very much for this post. I believe you make very important points.

I have sent the link to the discussion listservs for Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association (SAYMA), to which I belong, and of Southeastern Yearly Meeting (SEYM), within which I currently reside and attend.

I've also linked to your post on SEYM's Peace and Social Concerns website, which I edit.

You can find the link at http://seympeace.org/index.html#NEW

Thanks again,

Johan Maurer said...

Warm greetings to Marshall and Michael.

Marshall gives me an opening to expand on the brief comment about my discomfort in even presuming to discuss military options. I believe all military options are utterly flawed, morally, of course. As the Richmond Declaration of Faith says, "We would, in humility, but in faithfulness to our Lord, express our firm persuasion that all the exigencies of civil government and social order may be met under the banner of the Prince of Peace, in strict conformity with His commands."

My specific point in this "surge" piece is to urge us as citizens not to argue simply from inside the predetermined frames and false dichotomies that we're presented with. Even those who agree with the logic of conventional secular statecraft should reject those arguments.

In a secular, pluralistic nation, people of goodwill can differ over just wars, vocational pacifism, and absolute pacifism. However, from a specifically Christian worldview, I would want to go on to point out that any policy that is initiated through deceit and carried out corruptly will have diabolical spiritual consequences that will hurt all of us, and sap that goodwill. As a citizen (and particularly as a fellow-citizen of the occupation soldiers), I don't need to insist that everyone who reads my words be convinced of pacifism before requiring our government to become truthful and accountable again.

So ... yes, Marshall is right, all wars are morally flawed from a biblical viewpoint; and the teaching voice of the Friends church worldwide agrees that no war, however justified it appears to be by carnal logic, is exempt. However, some of our own friends and neighbors are now in Iraq, and are affected by what our non-pacifist national leadership decides to do next. Many Iraqis, equally loved by God, will be immediately affected by those decisions as well. I may pray for conversion among those leaders, but I also, as a citizen, want their arguments to be, at a minimum, HONEST and INTELLIGENT, and want our friends and neighbors back home in one piece, guns and all.

And in a democracy, what you and I want is still supposed to count for something, but it won't if all our interventions are trapped by the self-serving rhetorical frames set by the leaders and confirmed by lazy commentators.

Anonymous said...

Johan --

As one committed to Friends testimony against all war, but also with a history of active dialog with just-war Christians, I say amen! You have hit the nail on the head

Nancy A said...

I found this article editorial in the Ottawa Citizen two months ago . I thought it explained very well why this war is failing, as well as why any further war would fail. It echoes the thoughts in this posting.