January 27, 2007

Larison's Surge of Excitement

Daniel Larison, to whom I've linked before, is a prolific paleoconservative blogger and student of Byzantine history (more particularly, monotheletism). Larison writes well and prolifically, but lately has spent a great deal of time flogging poor Hugh Hewitt.

Hewitt is promoting an online pledge not to donate money to any GOP senator who supports an anti-surge resolution. Hewitt has garnered over 25,000 names, not all of them genuine and not all of them people who ever give money to candidates. Larison, who thinks the surge hopeless and the war ill-advised and worse, says Hewitt, if successful, will be contributing to a GOP débacle of seismic proportions. Hewitt, who's a party man, has always, post 9/11, seen national security as the central political issue of our time, and the GOP as the only party to defend it.

Time for my two cents.

I've come to think the war was ill-advised, as are most crusades to make the world, or some benighted part of it, safe for democracy. After the demise of the Soviet Union, it was time to rethink our forward policy and retrench our global involvements. At the same time, if the war can be brought to a more successful conclusion than the nightmare a swift withdrawal would bring, that's an outcome much to be preferred.

The question of the surge is whether it's part of a strategy that has some hope of success, just a cover for an inevitable withdrawal, or a prelude to further escalation. Only if we choose the first horn of the trilemma does the surge make sense.

The last can be dismissed, because the manpower for an escalation much larger than the surge simply doesn't exist. If there is an escalation, it will be in the form of some kind of attack on Iran. Such an attack would be a mistake or worse.

If the surge is a cover for withdrawal, it's a terrible misuse of the our finest young people who will be wounded and killed in increased numbers.

The real question, then, is whether the surge is part of a strategy that can make a difference in the outcome. That in turn depends not only upon the strategic ideas of Gen. Petraeus, the new commander, but on one's assessment of the Iraqi government. If it is irredeemably a creature of the Shi'a militias, a few thousand more troops are unlikely to stop the fragmentation of the country and its continued descent into chaos. If there is a window for the persistence of a national center that is something other than a puppet of these militias, and the strategy makes sense, the surge could have some merit.

News reports, which are often untrustworthy, suggest that Prime Minister Maliki will be unable to separate himself from the militias, and a political compromise that will isolate the jihadis will not be easy to come by.

If this estimate is accurate, the surge is not likely to be effective.

The next question is, what of the resolution? On the one hand, as more militant war opponents point out, a resolution would be ineffective, because Pres. Bush has made his mind up and a non-binding resolution would have no effect. On the other hand, such a resolution would, as Gen. Petraeus suggests, is likely to be demoralizing to the troops. It's also likely to communicate to the enemy that patience on their part will ultimately lead to a withdrawal by the U.S.

There is also the question of the proper rôles of Congress and the President. The President is commander-in-chief, and Congress cannot manage the strategy or tactics of a war. If Congress is to have a hand, it can do so through its investigative and oversight function, or through the power of the purse. The latter is something the Democrats and the Republican war opponents are not yet willing to assert.

Hewitt's pledge is aimed not at the Democrats, some of whom have opposed the war our of partisanship or as a result of political pressure, but at Republicans, who Hewitt seems to think are obligated to support the President no matter what. That's not the case. Neither are they, as Larison, normally no democrat, seems to think, obligated to follow their constituents' views of the moment.

Hewitt is certainly within his rights to try to influence the Senators of his party, and 25,000 names is hardly political chicken feed. Larison may well be right that if the war is not resolved quickly, it will divide the GOP (which has hardly covered itself with glory on other issues). I still don't know, however why he is so excited about this particular issue.

UPDATE: Larison's passionate and very logical reply, here. I also made a few editorial changes. I'm a bit under the weather and some of the sentences were incomplete. If I respond to Larison it will be in his comboxes or in another post.

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