Even as the Democratic leadership declares its opposition to a “surge” in Iraq, it should also be noted that not all Neocons agree on military tactics and there are significant political and strategic divisions among those who make the tactical case for more troops in Iraq. The debate about military escalation sometimes conceals more than it reveals about serious political disagreements among foreign policy elites about the balance of forces in Iraq and in the Gulf.
Neocon Splits on Military Strategy
As Peter Spiegel suggested in his Los Angeles Times report on Neocons and the surge, there has always been a split between those who backed Rumsfeld’s “military transformation” vision and a “light footprint” strategy in Iraq and those who favor boots on the ground.
Some leading neoconservatives do not embrace the troop surge proposal.
Wolfowitz, for instance, ridiculed the notion that more troops would be needed to secure Iraq than were used in the invasion.
And Richard N. Perle, a former top advisor to the Pentagon who also advocated for smaller troop numbers at the time of the invasion, is known to be skeptical of the idea of a surge.
The plan’s advocates acknowledge the split.
“Before the war, I was arguing for a quarter of a million troops in expectations we’d be there five or 10 years,” said Gary J. Schmitt, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute who has worked closely with Kristol and Kagan. “Richard Perle, obviously somebody else who’s thought of as a neocon, thought we should go in” with far fewer U.S. forces.
These splits go way back.
Kristol and Kagan backed McCain in 2000, not Bush. Perle and Wolfowitz were on the Bush team from the start.
For the McCain crowd, the focus is on the direct demonstration of American power.
The Right Zionist “family” around Perle–the authors of “A Clean Break“–is more focused on Israel and the exercise of military power in support of strategic alliances with indigenous “clients.”
Whose Military Escalation?
Even among those who currently champion an escalation, there appear to be some significant disagreements about the nature and purpose of such a surge.
The key split is between those who link a surge with a renewed effort to crush the Sunni insurgency in support of the Shia and those who think a surge should be used to crush Sadr’s Shiite militia, even as the US continues to try to court the Sunnis.
Right now, all those folks seem to hanging out together at the American Enterprise Institute. But at some point, the differences will be come more visible.
Here is Gerecht at AEI on the purpose of a surge:
Let us be clear: The Sunni insurgency and holy war against the Shiite community cannot be broken unless the cities of Baghdad and Ramadi are pacified. Unless these two towns are cleared and held, there is no way any Shiite government in Baghdad can begin the process of slowly neutralizing the murderous Shiite militias that now operate often with government complicity. The militias have gained increasing support from the Shiite community because they are the only effective means of neighborhood protection and offensive operations against Sunni insurgents and holy warriors…
And the Americans, who started withdrawing from Baghdad’s streets in the fall of 2003 (perhaps the most catastrophic decision ever made by General Abizaid), have retreated further into large, well-fortified bases. Revenge killings of innocent Sunnis are an ugly and unavoidable outgrowth of this process. They cannot be stopped unless the United States and the Iraqi government first significantly diminish the Sunni Arab menace–that is, clear and hold Baghdad and Ramadi.
But McCain (with Lieberman) was also on hand recently at AEI. The Washington Post transcript of the event suggests that McCain’s surge is intended to serve a different purpose.
A troop surge is necessary but not sufficient for American success in Iraq. By controlling the violence, we can pave the way for a political settlement. Once the government wields greater authority, however, Iraqi leaders must take significant steps on their own.
These include a commitment to go after the militias, a reconciliation process for insurgents and Baathists, more equitable distribution of government resources, provincial elections that will bring Sunnis into government, and a large increase in employment- generating economic projects.
McCain is not alone in his focus on Sadr. The military is itching for a fight with Sadr.
These are potentially very different surges, the “success” of which would be judged very differently by different US factions.