Saturday 23 May 2009

The truth behind the Iraqi surge

I've been reading Thomas Hicks's excellent account of the military surge in Iraq after 2006. The Gamble which is told largely from the perspective of General Petraeus is a fascinating look at how Petraeus and his small number of allies in the US military changed the course of the US intervention in Iraq by using soldiers in a way that brought them closer to the Iraqi people, and which successfully bought off many Iraqi extremists. What is fascinating in an account by one of the sternest critics of the war (his Fiasco is much cited by antiwar activists) is how the malign influence of Donald Rumsfeld was supported by many at the top of the US military, and it was only when Petraeus and his allies reached Bush after Rumsfeld's departure that the horrific monthly death toll started to fall and people in the main cities could start to live a life approaching normality. The counterinsurgency techniques described by Hicks will be relevant in Afghanistan - and in Sri Lanka for that matter - but the book also explains why an American military presence is likely to remain in Iraq for many years too, even if Obama reduces the 'combat troops'. I was a supporter of the Iraq invasion because of Saddam's malign record in his country and the region, but not the ill-prepared aftermath. The shame is that Petraeus was not there from the outset.

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