Debating the surge (that is, bridge) strategy with Tom Ricks
By Peter Feaver If readers need added incentive to post their thoughts in the comments section of this blog, how about getting to mix it up with my friend and FP colleague Tom Ricks? In response to my take on Obama’s Iraq plan, Ricks has an interesting comment: The bridging strategy as summarized by Gen. ...
By Peter Feaver
By Peter Feaver
If readers need added incentive to post their thoughts in the comments section of this blog, how about getting to mix it up with my friend and FP colleague Tom Ricks? In response to my take on Obama’s Iraq plan, Ricks has an interesting comment:
The bridging strategy as summarized by Gen. Casey in December 2006 called for something very different from the surge. It called for:
–moving out of the cities
–an accelerated transition
–consolidating the U.S. military presence on big FOBs outside the cities
–securing lines of communication and Iraqi borders
This amounts to almost the opposite of the surge, which downgraded the emphasis on transitioning to Iraqi forces and called for U.S. forces to move off big FOBs and into the cities.
The document in which Casey’s approach was summarized is reprinted as Appendix B of my new book The Gamble, starting on p. 337.
I had noted that the team in the White House that pressed for the surge strategy viewed the surge as a "bridge" that would make eventually possible a return to a "train and transition" mission. While it amounted to an abrupt about-face from the train and transition strategy we were on throughout 2006 (and which Baker-Hamilton recommended we accelerate), we did not view it as the permanent abandonment of that approach. On the contrary, as Steve Hadley argued at the time, we thought the President Bush’s surge strategy made possible the eventual implementation of train and transition, and was both possible under Baker-Hamilton (which called for a short-term surge to stabilize Baghdad) and incorporated the best elements of Baker-Hamilton.
But, make no mistake about it, the White House’s "bridge/surge" strategy called for a very different course of action in 2007 than the path we were on. As Ricks’ own reporting has documented, the bridge/surge strategy was not what General Casey was recommending in the November-December 2006 timeframe as the way forward for 2007. On the contrary, he was recommending something close to the opposite and, in early December 2006, issued orders to the troops to that effect.
And, as Tom’s recent post reminds us, Casey also called his proposal and those orders a "bridging" strategy. Why he called his strategy a bridging strategy when we were calling a very different strategy a bridging strategy I can only speculate. He may not have heard us call the surge a bridge strategy. Or he may have heard it and sought to out-maneuver it by appropriating the label.
In the end, what really matters is that President Bush decided on his version of the bridge: the surge strategy. And what matters is that this gutsy decision changed the trajectory for Iraq and has given President Obama responsible options he never would have had.
Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.
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