Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Surge: Prayin' for an Effect Other Than the Obvious

by Tom Bozzo

Brad DeLong is rightly driven to shrillness by the suggestion that the Iraq escalation (a/k/a "surge") of the magnitude the decider has apparently decided upon might constitute the "one final attempt" to "avoid" "defeat." (Note: not actually scare quotes; see here.)

In addition to Brad's excellent observation that the escalation wouldn't even approach the force levels suggested by our military's own counterinsurgency guidelines, further evidence for the pony-wishing silliness of Sensible Folks willing to give the surge a chance is that we've already seen variations in troop levels of the magnitude of the Surge in action. See here, for instance:

Apart from the peak force level associated with the initial invasion, we've actually seen "surges" of 20,000-50,000 troops several times over the course of the debacle. Granted, some of that variation could be in the support operations, but over the full range, there'd have to be a 10-20K variation just in combat forces. So it's appropriate to ask what those surges have bought us. For that, see here:

Alas, the horizontal scales don't quite line up, and I don't have the time to extract the data into a pretty picture. But the eyeballed simple regresssion (don't try this at home, people — I'm a perfessional econometrician) pretty clearly suggests that the surges pretty clearly affect the number of attacks on coalition forces while having no discernible effect on the underlying chaos in Iraq. Indeed Gordon Smith (the R-OR Senator, not the UW lawprofblogger) says the plan “exalts hope over experience.” Likewise, Dan Froomkin understands the stylized facts:
A relatively minor increase in troops, a promise of greater cooperation from the Iraqi prime minister, a small infusion of reconstruction money -- not only have we heard all this before, but it doesn't amount to much.

A sophisticated counterargument might be that since we're already at the higher end of the range, there's some nonlinear effect from sustaining one of these local force peaks that can't be predicted from the range of experience over the last 3-4 years. Yet, in what can only be taken as an effort to contain dissent within the Republican ranks (see Sen. Smith, above), and possibly broader political fallout from what is not likely to be a popular decision, Dan Bartlett would have us believe that those soldiers and Marines will just be providing "support" for Iraqi troops who will be "knocking on doors." (Via the NYT, previous link.) We'll apparently get any wonderful effects we get without the troops actually doing anything!

Put it all together and the "surge" is not merely a wish for a pony, it's a wish for a magic winged-Pegasus pony. While one might as well dream big if one must resort to dreaming, dreams are not Plans.

Impeach Bush and Cheney now. And reassign members of the "sensible" hawkish commentariat to the Wal-Mart support jobs for which they are actually qualified.
Hey, stop picking on Wal-Mart!

Colbert last night reminded us that General Shinseki said you would need about 300,000 troops to invade when the country was stable; Paul Wolfowitz's reply ("wildly off the mark") is one for the ages.

Now it's not stable, the weapons have not been tracked, and the troop level will still be less than at the beginning of the war. And Mike Pence's assurance that "the president is offering more than just troops" (hometown paper link; probably bust if you're looking a day or two later) will only leave us wondering what he's been offering Iraq for the past 3.5 years.
I would just like to add that I am personally also peeved that they would choose to name this action after a sucky short-lived Mountain Dew knockoff.
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