Yesterday the Heritage Foundation hosted a discussion on the way forward in Iraq. The panel consisted of Kenneth Pollack (Brookings Institution), Frederick Kagan (American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research), and Anthony Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies). The main subject of discussion was whether or not the troop surge would succeed in securing Iraq. Though their opinions differed on this matter, each speaker agreed, that either way, this surge is the last possible option for success in Iraq.
Kagan was the most enthusiastic about the success of the surge. He considered the cooperation of the Maliki government and news that insurgent groups have gone underground as signs that the surge is already working in some parts of the country. Pollack used the later example, instead, to highlight the uncertainty of the outcome of the surge. He explained that it's too soon to know if insurgent groups will wait out the surge, or if they will loose strength and diminish.
Pollack went on to argue that it is difficult to determine whether or not it is too late in the conflict for the surge to work, explaining that we should have adopted this strategy much earlier. Kagan disagreed and explained that the Maliki government and the Iraqi army were not capable for this type of surge in 2004 and 2005, but that they are now. Cordesman, on the other hand, believes that the government, the army, and the police are still not capable enough to handle the military surge.
There were three themes that all of the speakers agreed on: the need for bolstering the civilian side of the surge, the importance of the political, economic, and social aspects of a civilian follow through, and the responsibility the U.S. has to not abandon Iraq regardless of the outcome of the surge. Pollack explained that:
"The replacement of Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates, as well as the succession of Lt. General David Petraeus to the command of all Coalition forces in Iraq does offer some hope...However, as is frequently intoned but rarely acted upon, the military cannot possibly win the struggle for Iraq by itself. Even if Gates and Petraeus deliver a brilliant performance (and they may well), without a commensurate civilian effort to deliver the political, economic, diplomatic, and social components, the plan will still fail."
Cordesman argued it would be irresponsible for the U.S. to walk out of Iraq without doing everything possible to secure the country, and prevent conflict from spilling over into neighboring countries. The panel agreed that it was not realistic, or responsible for lawmakers to urge for a withdrawal if success is the objective, from both a political and military standpoint. Cordesman closed by stating that "the price of success is 2015, not 2008, and that it is not a matter of containment, but constant damage control."