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And so it is important to be clear about what Petraeus is about to attempt in Baghdad: the "surge" is marketing spin for a last effort to apply counterinsurgency tactics to the civil war in Iraq. There are several ironies here. This escalation is favored by the Pentagon faction most closely aligned with the Democratic Party's national-security sensibility, the most sophisticated and cerebral officers: generals like Jack Keane and Petraeus; colonels like H.R. McMaster and Pete Mansoor, who served in the semisecret "Colonels Group" advising Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace last autumn. The counterinsurgency doctrine--drafted by a group led by Petraeus and published by the Army in 2006--is a remarkable document. It has a Zen tinge, posing nine paradoxes of counterinsurgency warfare like "the more force used, the less effective it is" and "the more you protect your force, the less secure you are." It proposes radical new tactics, which resemble nothing so much as the community policing that transformed New York and other U.S. cities in the 1990s. This requires a revolution in military training, an emphasis on creative decision making rather than on merely following orders.
But by the very standards that Petraeus helped develop, it probably won't work in Baghdad. First of all, there aren't enough troops to do it. The counterinsurgency manual suggests a ratio of 20 troops per 1,000 residents, or 120,000 troops to secure Baghdad alone, but the largest "surge" being contemplated would increase the number of troops in the capital by 20,000, to about 35,000. Second, the troops we do have aren't trained to the task: they're tired and overextended, and it will take time to retrain them to knock on doors rather than kick them down. Third, this is no longer an insurgency; it's a civil war. Counterinsurgency tactics are designed to help a credible indigenous government fight a guerrilla opponent. The idea that Nouri al-Maliki's government is responsible is laughable: it's little more than a fig leaf for Shi'ite militias. Finally, as Mosul shows, these tactics require lots of time. I asked a leading active-duty Army counterinsurgency expert how long it would take before we knew if the surge had succeeded. "Ten years," he said. That's not a surge. It's a glacier.
I hope Petraeus succeeds, for the sake of the terrorized citizens of Baghdad. Most military experts fear that he won't. "If this is Plan B, we'd better start working on Plan C," says Andrew Krepinevich, a leading military thinker. Plan C has to be a smart, detailed withdrawal from Iraq that doesn't leave chaos and regional war in its wake. I wish Petraeus were working on that rather than on Bush's futile pipe dream.