Austin Bay

"You are damned if you are heavy, and damned if you are light -- both cause problems."

That sentence appeared in an email I received three weeks ago from a thoughtful Vietnam War vet reflecting on "how devilishly difficult counterinsurgency really is."

In his formulation, "heavy" roughly correlates to Gen. David Petraeus' "surge and hold" operations in Iraq and "light" to the "patrol and quick reaction" operational scheme directed by Gens. John Abizaid and George Casey.

The military component of the "surge" consists of change in operational and tactical emphasis designed to achieve the original strategic goals. Iraq as a strategic project is and has always been about choice. A free, economically and politically stable Iraq creates a democratic choice in the politically dysfunctional Muslim Middle East, a region trapped in the terrible yin-yang of tyrant and terrorist -- which is no choice for those who value life and liberty. Sept. 11 made it clear that economic and political development -- the expansion of the sphere of economically and politically liberal states -- was key to America's 21st century security.

But development takes a long, long time.

This means a "sudden" increase in troop strength alone is of minimal value. Reinforcements and withdrawals have always been an option.

What Petraeus has changed is the "level of presence" in violent areas. The relentless targeting of Shia and Sunni extremist organizations is a far more important feature of what Iraqis are calling "the new security plan" than simply sending more U.S. troops into the streets.

Since Petraeus took charge, the economic and governmental (Iraqi political) "lines of operation" have received increased public emphasis. This new emphasis is very much a part of the "surge." The "surge" is commonly referred to as if it were solely a fighting strategy -- in reality, the intent is to work synergistically with economic and political activities, and it amounts to armed nation-building. Iraq's provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) are being revamped. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's national reconciliation program remains the key Iraqi political endeavor. In Iraq, economic and governmental progress is a frustratingly incremental and painstaking effort, but that holds true for every other hard corner of the planet.

In February, I speculated it would take at least eight to 12 months before we'd know if Petraeus' approach will significantly accelerate the process. Petraeus promises an evaluation in September, so he is a month ahead of my low estimate. The year 2012 is probably a better time to evaluate it.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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