The Surge: Working or No?
I’m coming a bit late to this, so my apologies, but I’m curious about [this op-ed](http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/30/opinion/30pollack.html) by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution. In the piece, they say the war is going much better than people think, mainly because of the surge.
Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.
Now, this is pretty at odds with what’s been said pretty recently, even by [O’Hanlon](http://www.brookings.edu/fp/saban/analysis/june2007iraq_partition.htm) and [Pollack](http://www.brookings.edu/fp/saban/analysis/jan2007iraq_civilwar.htm). And it flies in the face of much of what’s being reported. But these guys were on the ground and that gives them at least some credibility.
But I guess it depends on who you talk to. From my experience, the officers — especially the higher-ups — tended to happy-talk Iraq to such a degree that you wondered if you were standing on the same planet. It’s always the enlisted guys who tell you the straight talk, and it’s unclear how many grunts they talked to. From the op-ed, they certainly spoke with advisors and captains, and they were ferried around by the U.S. military. Did that color their thinking when they wrote the article?
Note: I’m not one to give embedding a bad name. I understand that it’s the only way for foreigners to move around Iraq these days (or at least in a heavily armed convoy) and I don’t think that just because you’re embedded you’re drinking the Kool-Aid. But if the only people you talk to are Embassy political officers and aides to Gen. David H. Petraeus, you’re going to get a pretty skewed view of things. Am I suggesting the military lied to the two to prettify the picture? A few lies were certainly told, but I have no idea what they were; I’m just familiar that the military will lie to protect secrets, operational plans and, yes, cover its collective ass.
But people involved in a mission will also lie to themselves in order to make the sacrifices they’ve endured — and Lord knows there are many for the guys over there — bearable. And then they repeat those “true lies” to visiting journalists and dignitaries in an attempt to get some affirmation that yes, things are going better, this isn’t all a waste.
My friend George Packer, who I think is one of the smartest guys around, [has a number of questions about this trip that need to be answered](http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/georgepacker/2007/07/ohanlon-and-pol.html). As he writes:
At the heart of arguments over the war there has always been the question of what’s happening “on the ground.” It’s never been harder to find out than it is now, and in my experience, no news is generally bad news. Over the past four years, Iraq has humbled a lot of people. What’s missing from the Op-Ed is a necessary humility.
O’Hanlon testified yesterday before the oversights subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by my old congressman Vic Snyder, D-Ark., about his recent trip. Matthew Yglesias says he “[Totally backed down](http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/archives/2007/07/ohanlon.php)” and said the progress was only against Al Qaeda in Iraq and that the civil war was as bad as ever. And there was no political progress, which was the whole point of the surge in the first place. So like many people, I’m skeptical about the facts and conclusions drawn from the op-ed and I’m curious as to why he took a more pessimistic tone before Congress a day later.