Foreign Policy has yet another excellent blog up, this one a “book club” called In Other Words. The first book they’re discussing is Tom Ricks’s The Gamble, with posts by Christian Brose and Marc Lynch, who provide welcome dissent. Lynch wraps up by asking a crucial question:
[…] What if there had been no surge?
None of the current crop of Surge Literature really grapples with this counter-factual, though Ricks comes the closest (see his chapter seven). Most simply assume the worst-case counter-factual, that without the surge Iraqi civil war would have escalated to genocide and the United States would have fled with tail between legs. But this is simply not a sure thing. By the time the surge brigades arrived in Iraq, the Sunni Awakening’s turn against al-Qaeda had long since taken place (in the fall of 2006). The sectarian cleansing of Baghdad was far advanced (and continued through the surge). Moqtada al-Sadr’s calculations vis a vis Iran, competing Shia groups, and the United States were already changing. Strategic exhaustion may already have been setting in. Had the Iraq Study Group been heeded, would Iraq today look much as it does now — only with half the U.S. military presence and a much faster track towards political reconciliation?