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Ceci n’est pas un “Surge”

February 23, 2009

Obama’s decision to send 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan is called a “surge” on a regular basis and treated as if equivalent to Bush’s Surge in Iraq. This is conflating two different things and threats to confuse discussions. The Iraq Surge was not simply an increase of troops in the theatre. It was a change of strategy in the war. Assuming that the White House would say if it were otherwise, Obama’s administration has not yet decided on a coherent strategy in Afghanistan. General Petraeus’s and the administration’s Richard Holbrooke’s reviews are not yet in and it is to be expected that their opinions will have some influence on planning the approach in Afghanistan.

The President’s decision to send additional troops likely was in response to the string of bad news coming from the region. That it was made before an official strategy for the war has been outlined doesn’t evoke much confidence and is in ironic contradiction to M Obama’s opinion of Bush’s Surge before Obama finally admitted that it was a success. Interestingly, when he predicted the Iraq Surge to fail, M Obama criticised the strategy as if it were nothing but an increase in troops without an accompanying change in strategy. For example:

“[W]e can send 15,000 more troops, 20,000 more troops, 30,000 more troops, I don’t know any expert on the region or any military officer that I’ve spoken to privately that believes that that is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground.”

“[E]ven those who support the escalation have acknowledged that 20,000, 30,000, even 40,000 more troops placed temporarily in places like Baghdad are not going to make a long-term difference.”

“I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.”

While Bush’s Surge made a difference because it was a new strategic approach, the 17,000-strong “Obama Surge” is vulnerable for exactly this type of criticism as long as it is not part of a strategic plan.

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