The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 26, 2008

Surge successful, but ending still uncertain

By Dave Kinnamon, Commentary

I think the consistently positive and favorable results emanating from the U.S. surge in Iraq, which began in February 2007, have been consistent and lengthy enough to merit a well-earned toast for Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of Multi-National Forces in Iraq.

This writer is no longer skeptical about whether or not the surge is “working.” I believe it is.

By “working,” what do we mean exactly?

If we follow Petraeus’ stated goals — to reduce violence, increase security and give the Iraqi government and security forces a more stable environment in which to grow themselves — then Petraeus has been impressively successful in his surge.

But to use Petraeus’ own words on Iraq, “Tell me how this ends?”

Are we prepared as a nation to keep a huge Army of occupation in Iraq for as long or longer than we have in the Republic of (South) Korea? 58 years? Longer than that?

Maintaining the status quo for so long begins to look like mere stubborness rather than the intelligent, prudent, fiscally sound application of a nation’s human and financial resources.

Petraeus’ request for 20,000 additional U.S. troops in Iraq — the surge troops — in January 2007 sounded oddly similar to similar requests made by a long line of hapless historical American Army generals who always seemed to believe more troops is the panacea for failed U.S. military policies. William C. Westmoreland, in Vietnam, and George B. McClellan, during the American Civil War, are two apt examples of the “more troops equals the solution” fallacy.

Westmoreland insisted — even after being completely surprised by the enemy’s Tet Offensive and commanding the U.S. military mission in Iraq during the highest casualty-producing year, 1968, (16,592 U.S. servicemen killed) — he only needed 120,000 more troops to completely conquer the North Vietnamese Army and their Viet Cong compatriots through a war of attrition.

McClellan, on the other hand, became famous for refusing to keep the fight going while insisting he needed more and more troops and materiel — and for making quasi-hysterical, grossly exaggerated overestimations of Confederate troop strength.

To generals like that, throwing more and more troops at a problem is their sure-fire solution to the problem(s).

But with his surge, Petraeus has defied one historical trend among U.S. Army generals.

Petraeus deserves tremendous praise and high regards from journalists and the U.S. population generally.

A little over a year ago, I wrote an op-ed piece roundly criticizing Petraeus for essentially buying Sunni loyalty — in Anbar and other provinces — with U.S. cash and reconstruction projects. One of Petraeus’s central tenets in his counterinsurgency theory is, “Money is ammunition.” Petraeus has handed out a lot of U.S. taxpayer cash to warring Iraqi tribesmen during the past 16 months, but if it works, it works. Buying friends and allies during wartime has legitimate historical precedent.

I also criticized Petraeus for being out of touch with the American fighting man on the ground in Iraq because Petraeus has never served in combat at the small unit level. In fact, Petraeus never served in combat at all until the conventional military invasion and follow-on occupation of Operation Iraqi Freedom, from 2003-2004, during which he commanded the Army’s 101st Air Assault Division.

Petraeus opted to not serve as a fighting man in the Vietnam War, during which he was eligible to volunteer or allow himself to be drafted, for four years: 1970 to 1973. Further, during the Persian Gulf War, August 1990 to early 1991, Petraeus served in Washington, D.C., as an assistant to the Army Chief of Staff. Somebody has to do those jobs, mind you, but a man who packages himself to the American public as a new age warfighter might have found his way to the combat zone during either or both Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars.

I also criticized Petraeus for hanging out in a reinforced bunker in the Green Zone and sleeping every night in air-conditioned comfort on a king-size bed while the American fighting man was sweating it out in 120-degree-plus heat in conflict zones inside Iraq. But, that’s just the way of things.

It’s unnecessary to debate the righteousness, or lack thereof, of the principles or motives behind President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq while praising Gen. Petraeus for his successful surge strategy. In fairness to Petraeus’ military prowess, we must keep the two issues separated.

For example, we may lavish praise upon the disaster workers who responded to and later cleaned up the Hyatt Regency skywalk disaster in Kansas City on July 17, 1981, which killed 114 people, while not praising or justifying the decisions of the engineers who designed and workers who built the skywalk that could barely hold up its own weight.

U.S. troop deaths are significantly down in Iraq. In fact, according to one news analysis earlier this week, U.S. troops are now statistically four times more likely to be killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq. A sea change has occurred in Iraq, and Gen. Petraeus’ surge strategy is behind much or most of these positive changes.

Iraqi troop and police deaths are down significantly as are civilian deaths. Today, Iraq is a significantly safer atmosphere. One cannot help but sense the Iraqi government has a real chance here to grab a hold and establish themselves in Iraq.

Kinnamon is online/special projects editor of the News & Eagle. Contact him at