James Forsyth

The politics of the surge

The politics of the surge
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Tom Ricks’ series on the surge in The Washington Post continues with a riveting account of how David Petraeus beat back both a chief of Central Commander who wanted to return to the pre-surge tactics that had failed and Congressional Democrats who wanted to admit defeat. Ricks’ account shows Petraeus and his team to be almost as skilled at the art of politics as they are at counter-insurgency.

When you consider that Admiral Fallon, the head of Central Command, wanted to halve the number of US combat forces in Iraq and downgrade the importance of security as a goal, you realise that the man above Petraeus in the chain of command was—essentially—prepared to lose. But Petraeus grasped that with the President foursquare behind him and the mission, he could resist Central Command’s desire to end the surge before it had really started and to pull US troops out of the fight. Indeed if it had not been for Petraeus, Odierno, Ambassador Crocker and the support that Bush gave them as Commander in Chief, the United States would have left Iraq humiliated and defeated.

The other act of political skill of Petraeus’ team was to realise that the anti-war, Democratic majority in Congress was in a far weaker position than it appeared. As Ricks writes:

But Col. Steve Boylan, Petraeus's communications adviser, believed that congressional Democrats, not the general and the president, were the ones in a bind.

"My feeling was that Congress wouldn't be able to put together enough votes to override a presidential veto, because then they'd own it," he said, putting his finger on the Democrats' basic dilemma: how to end the war without being blamed for how it ended.

The surge, which Obama opposed, has given the United States a chance to achieve success—a relatively stable democratic state with secure borders—in Iraq. It is a chance that Obama should be prepared to take.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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