Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Slugging it out over the long-ago surge

I felt like Rodney King as I was reading Michael Desch and Peter Feaver slug it out in the pages of International Security about the surge. I like both guys, even though they are political scientists, that most oxymoronic of academic specialties. Maybe one day they can become historians — which is what both seem ...

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I felt like Rodney King as I was reading Michael Desch and Peter Feaver slug it out in the pages of International Security about the surge. I like both guys, even though they are political scientists, that most oxymoronic of academic specialties. Maybe one day they can become historians -- which is what both seem to be trying to be here. (I also aspire to be one some day.)

My take: Feaver is too Washington-centric in his views. President Bush's decision to fire General Casey and go with Petraeus and a changed approach was key, but after that, what happened in Iraq was more important than anything that happened in Washington.  It was necessary (and difficult) to understand what was going on in both capitals, but more important to know what was going on in Baghdad, especially because Washington's consensus generally seemed to lag reality by about six months.

Fyi, this poll says Iraqis don't seem all that impressed with the surge.

I felt like Rodney King as I was reading Michael Desch and Peter Feaver slug it out in the pages of International Security about the surge. I like both guys, even though they are political scientists, that most oxymoronic of academic specialties. Maybe one day they can become historians — which is what both seem to be trying to be here. (I also aspire to be one some day.)

My take: Feaver is too Washington-centric in his views. President Bush’s decision to fire General Casey and go with Petraeus and a changed approach was key, but after that, what happened in Iraq was more important than anything that happened in Washington.  It was necessary (and difficult) to understand what was going on in both capitals, but more important to know what was going on in Baghdad, especially because Washington’s consensus generally seemed to lag reality by about six months.

Fyi, this poll says Iraqis don’t seem all that impressed with the surge.

The only thing I would add is that the older I get, the less I think that Samuel Huntington’s Soldier and the State is an accurate portrayal of the way American civil-military relations work, or even should work. I recently read a good essay by Richard Kohn about the flaws of Huntington’s book, carried in a volume titled American Civil-Military Relations: The Soldier and the State in a New Era, edited by Suzanne Nielsen and Don Snider. To complete the circle, I met the former in Baghdad during the Surge in question. 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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