Book Review: "The Surge"

Turning the Tide of Battle

The Wall Street Journal, July 7, 2009, Book Review (Opinion Section)

by Brendan Simms

Photo Credit: The Wall Street Journal

Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal 


By the end of 2006, the Vietnam experience seemed to be repeating itself in Iraq. Coalition commanders were at their wits' end as they battled a tenacious and elusive insurgency. Like the unfortunate South Vietnamese army, the Iraqi security forces, despite years of training, were failing to "stand up" in sufficient numbers. The Baker-Hamilton report recommended that the U.S. "engage" with Iraq's neighbors -- in other words, sell out the fledgling democracy in Baghdad, just as Henry Kissinger had sought to secure an exit from Vietnam through détente with China. A vicious sectarian civil war was rending the country; massacre and torture had become routine. It would not be long, many predicted, before the world would witness a rush to the helicopters, not in Saigon this time but in Baghdad's Green Zone.

As it happened, history did repeat itself -- not as tragedy or farce but as triumph, though a qualified one. The broad outlines of the 2007 surge are well known: the dispatch of thousands of additional troops, who contained the insurgency and cleared the enemy out of the "belts" surrounding Baghdad; the Sunni "awakening" of tribal chiefs fed up with al Qaeda atrocities, who set up militias in tactical alliance with coalition and Iraqi government forces; and the long ceasefire of Moqtada al Sadr's Shia extremists, whose relative quiescence helped to reduce sectarian tension. Within a few months, Baghdad had been transformed: Attacks were down by 60%, civilian deaths had dropped 70% and sectarian attacks of one sort and other had fallen by a staggering 90%. Without the surge, it would be impossible to imagine last week's withdrawal of American troops from Iraq's major cities.

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