Yesterday at his SECDEF nomination hearing, former Senator Chuck Hagel refused to acknowledge the success of the Iraq Troop Surge. Under a withering direct examination from Senator John McCain, Hagel was reduced to responding with, “I’m not going to give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I’ll defer that to the judgment of history,” Hagel’s opposition to the Surge was more certain in 2007 when he stated that it was, “the greatest foreign policy blunder since Vietnam.” Why was he unable to articulate his opposition when pressed?
In 2008 I went back to the area in Iraq, Karadah District, that I had patrolled in 2004 – what I found was short of amazing. The District Area Council was in the process of establishing a chamber of commerce and businesses were open and flourishing. Violence in the streets had significantly diminished and the local populace felt comfortable enough to move forward with their lives, their businesses and their families. The trip that I took with seven colleagues resulted in the first independent evaluation of the Iraq Troop Surge and can be read here.
It was a different story in 2004 – when at one point during the summer of 04, multiple car bombs were being set off on a weekly basis around Baghdad. Violence in the summer of 2004 was at record high levels and the 1st Cavalry Division was sustaining some of the highest casualties rates since Vietnam. The violence didn’t stop – in the following two years, acts of violence would skyrocket and peaked in 2006. You can see a map of the violence in Baghdad here.
Coalition forces did not have a strategy for success nor did they fully understand the kind of war we were fighting until 2007. Just as the Allies in WWII did not have a strategy for success until Churchill demanded a robust campaign in Italy, neither did the Bush Administration. A number of studies and reports were produced by the the military, Congress and yet the plan that caught the attention of the Bush Administration was the AEI white paper written by Fred Kagan. Former Vice Chief of Staff General Jack Keane would later be credited with helping the White House lay the political groundwork for the surge of troops in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.
Ultimately, Hagel is correct that the yardstick of history will measure the success of the surge – and for those of that were present – its been measured, its been studied, time has passed and the conclusion that the Surge worked is clear.