Give the Surge a Chance, Analysts Say

By Matt Purple | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - President Bush's Iraq "surge" strategy is not dead and should be given a chance to succeed, according to two security analysts who met at the American Enterprise Institute Monday to discuss military policy and politics.

AEI resident scholar Frederick Kagan and former acting Army Chief of Staff Gen. Jack Keane spoke out with rare voices of approval for the president's policy as part of an AEI panel called "Assessing the Surge in Iraq."

Kagan was critical of the surge's detractors, saying they had jumped to attack a policy that had only recently begun. He expressed incredulity at the idea that the surge was somehow not working.

"The current strategy has not failed. It just began June 15th," Kagan said.

Keane agreed, adding that the strategy needed more time. He also stressed that the situation was generally improving in Iraq and that coalition forces were gaining momentum in their efforts.

"All the Iraqis that I spoke to, numbering in the hundreds, believed the security situation was getting better," he said.

Keane also expressed optimism for the ongoing struggle against al Qaeda, which had gained a foothold in Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He cited Anbar province, an area once riddled with al Qaeda fighters, whose residents had since turned against the terrorists.

"Al Qaeda overplayed their hands," he said. Iraqis "are fed up with this barbarism and war that has gone on for four years."

James Miller, a security analyst with the Center for a New American Security and a proponent of a phased withdrawal of troops, also attended. All the panelists had recently traveled to Iraq.

Miller disagreed with Keane's assessment, arguing that the progress in Anbar province was a result of an entirely homegrown revolt and had nothing to do with the surge. He said that an increase in soldiers was not what Iraq needed and recommended a more diplomatic and advisory approach for the United States.

"This will require aiding and abetting the Iraqis, not increasing troops in Baghdad," Miller said.

Miller's group recently released a report titled "Phased Transition: A Responsible Way Forward and Out of Iraq." The report calls for reducing soldiers in Iraq from 160,000 to 60,000 by the end of 2008.

Miller also criticized the surge for focusing too heavily on Baghdad and failing to address other crucial areas of Iraq.

"There's a lot more to Iraq than Baghdad, and we need to deal with each of these different issues," he said. "If we focus our attention there [in Baghdad], the enemy will adapt and take the fight elsewhere."

Kagan criticized Miller's assessment, saying that the surge was active in all of Iraq, except the relatively peaceful Ninawa province. He conceded that al Qaeda could adapt but said they couldn't run forever.

"Iraq is not an infinitely large country. There's actually a fairly small area that al Qaeda can operate in," he said.

Miller also expressed skepticism regarding the political situation in Iraq, which he views as extremely volatile. He claimed that there had been almost no recent political progress in Iraq and cited the Parliament boycott in which 74 out of 275 members are currently participating.

"The surge hasn't resolved any political issues, and it's unlikely it will by September," when Gen. David Petraeus reports on its progress, he said.

Keane argued that the surge was not supposed to solve political problems but was intended to provide security, a necessary precursor to political stability. He said that one of the greatest failures of the Iraq war was the emphasis on exclusively political solutions without first tamping down violence.

"We chose not to protect the people. The Iraqi people could not protect themselves. And as a result, Baghdad was on fire," he said.

Kagan agreed, pointing out that the strategic emphasis until January 2007 was to "aid the Iraqis and leave a small footprint militarily." He said that an operation such as the surge hadn't been attempted until this year.

The AEI discussion came two days after a sudden eruption of violence in Iraq that rattled political leaders in Washington and Baghdad. A spate of suicide bombings north of Baghdad over the weekend left more than 150 dead.

The domestic political challenges posed by the war are also growing. Anti-war sentiment within the Republican Party is spreading, and last week, another Republican senator - Pete Domenici of New Mexico - announced his opposition to the surge.

Even more alarming for surge proponents is a new USA Today poll released Tuesday, which found that Americans opposed any increase of troops in Iraq 61 percent to 36 percent.

Miller said enacting the surge policy could result in a swelling of anti-war public opinion in the U.S., which would force the next president's hand in mounting a precipitous withdrawal, which he believed would be disastrous.

But Keane argued that pulling out would "show a lack of character." We started the Iraq war, he said, and we must finish it.

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