I happen to think Tom Ricks’s The Gamble is a fine history of the surge despite the obvious flaw of forgetting the Iraqi perspective and dismissing SOFA. One of the truly commendable things about the book is that while Ricks clearly admires his subjects, the men and women of the United States armed forces, he never shies away from the uncomfortable but necessary conclusion: the surge may have been a military success, yet politically it has failed miserably. And although he doesn’t quite put it that way, what I took away from the book’s bleak final chapter was a sense that in the larger scheme of things the surge may well end up but a fleeting blip of good luck before yet another round of mass slaughter.
Ricks’s fellow CNASer Andrew Exum doesn’t quite see it that way, though. Defending the book’s omissions in Abu Muqawama, Exum lists other books on the surge yet to be written that will supposedly fill in the blanks:
- The Surge from the perspective of tactical leaders — squad leaders, platoon leaders, platoon sergeants.
- The Surge as seen by the residents of Baghdad.
- The role played by special operations forces in Iraq in 2007.
- The history of the Surge as seen from 20 years on, when everything is declassified.
Yeah, maybe, but here’s the thing: It’s quite possible none of these books will be written. If Ricks is right — and I think he is — the war has only reached its midway point, and the temporary reprieve the surge provided may soon be over. So, while it’s possible that 2007 will be remembered as the year of the great turnaround, it’s just as likely that instead of researching the dynamics of Petraeus’s command, future historians will ask, “Surge, what surge?”
The current emphasis on counterinsurgency in American military thinking rests almost solely on the assumption that COIN reversed the course in Iraq. But did it really? All we can say for sure is that the surge helped create conditions for a U.S. president to fulfil his campaign promise. Peace — that’s a different matter altogether.