From Commentary magazine, via OpinionJournal.com, "Anatomy of the Surge," by Duke University Professor Peter D. Feaver. During a two-year leave of absence from his teaching post, Professor Feaver served as a strategic planning expert for the National Security Council, and worked extensively on Iraq policy issues. He witnessed the folly of our early efforts, and the subsequent success of the troop surge. As Feaver writes:
Over the past 16 months, the United States has altered its trajectory in Iraq. We are no longer headed toward a catastrophic defeat and may be on the path to a remarkable victory. As a result, the next president, Democrat or Republican, may well find it easier to adopt the broad contours of this administration's current strategy than to jeopardize progress by changing course abruptly.
I witnessed the shift firsthand. For two years, from June 2005 to July 2007, I left my teaching position at Duke to join the National Security Council staff as a special adviser for strategic planning, and in that capacity I worked closely on Iraq policy. By the middle of 2005, it was painfully obvious to everyone involved that the only decisive outcome that could be achieved during President Bush's tenure was the triumph of our enemies, America's withdrawal, and Iraq's descent into a hellish chaos as yet undreamed of.
The challenge, therefore, was to develop and implement a workable strategy that could be handed over to Mr. Bush's successor. Although important progress could be made on that strategy during Mr. Bush's watch, ultimately it would be carried through by the next president. This was the reality behind the course followed by the administration in 2005-06, and it remains the reality behind the new and different course the administration has been following since 2007.
Next month, the military leader of the surge, Gen. David Petraeus, and America's chief diplomat in Iraq, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, will present their second report to Congress on the surge and its effects. Prudent and circumspect men, they will surely not advance bold claims on behalf of the policy the United States has been following under their leadership. But I expect they will speak more optimistically about the future than many thought possible eighteen months ago. Their testimony will demonstrate that, at last, the United States has a sustainable strategy for Iraq with a reasonable chance of success, and one that George W. Bush will be able to turn over with confidence to the next incumbent of the White House.
How we got here is a story in itself.
Read the whole thing. It's a fascinating, insider's account of how we arrived at the surge strategy, in a rather indirect manner. Early efforts to stand-up Iraqi security units and send them into key Baghdad neighborhoods foundered; domestic criticism of the war effort intensified, and the White House was unable to offer its alternative when the Baker-Hamilton report was released in December, 2006. By the time the administration formally proposed the troop "surge" in early, the political climate, Professor Feaver observes, was "frosty." Dr. Feaver is obviously a master of understatement.
Still, President Bush elected to press on with his strategy, and the surge has produced a dramatic turn-around in the security situation in Iraq. As for the future, Feaver offers this cautionary assessment:
>The evidence of the past 16 months is that the American people are likely to support, or at least tolerate, a reduction in American numbers gradual enough to preserve the gains of the surge. A President McCain, for example, would probably have no trouble taking advantage of this sustainable strategy and bringing our mission in Iraq to the most successful end achievable.
What of a President Barack Obama or a President Hillary Clinton? If one were to attempt an answer to this question from the two candidates' words and conduct during the long primary season, one would have reason to conclude that both, in promising a rapid "end" to the war with an equally rapid withdrawal of American forces, are bound and determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of at least partial victory.
National security experts advising Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton would be well-advised to heed Professor Feaver's warning. Even at this juncture, it's not too late for politicians to lose the war in Iraq.