Do we have any plan to ever get out of Iraq? It seems to me that even the agreement to have a time horizon says we plan to stay there forever. A "horizon," after all, is a line in the distance that you can approach, but never reach.
If we plan to get out of Iraq, at some time, we need a mission to do so, say, 16 months after the new president takes office. That plan can then be evaluated, by simulation, for example, putting in changes to conditions on the ground to determine how best to accomplish the mission. Some supposed conditions might indicate that the plan cannot be accomplished without major changes, such as extending the date of mission accomplishment. However, and this is the point, without a well defined mission, a plan can never be developed for evaluation and the mistakes we made getting into Iraq could easily be repeated whenever we finally decide to get out.
There is another argument about the conditions in Iraq today that is hotly contested. Has the 'surge' been responsible for the reduction in violence that has taken place during the past few months? There is no argument but that Iraq is less violent than it was as little as a few months ago. The question is, was the surge responsible for the reduction in violence, or were there other factors that were at least as important and might the reduction have taken place without our having sent 30,000 to 40,000 additional troops? This is important because the fact that all those troops were sent has made it impossible for us to send addition troops to Afghanistan where al Qaeda has been regrouping along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
It is reasonable to ask, "If we 'win' in Iraq but lose Afghanistan in the process, have we really won"?
At any rate, a brief review of certain aspects of the Iraq war might be in order. On pages 228 through 232 of Thomas Ricks classic book about the war in Iraq Fiasco, Ricks describes how David Patraeus handled his role in Iraq in 2003, when he was commander of the 101st Airborne Division in the area of Mosul. He instituted a counterinsurgency operation, even then, and was able to pacify the warring factions within the region. This is the same tactic that was later applied in conjunction with the surge. It is hard to say how much of the reduction in violence was due to the change in tactics and how much was the result of the increase in the number of troops.
Other things were happening at the time of the surge that could also have contributed to the reduction in violence that has taken place during the past few months.
The tribal chiefs in Anbar province had already determined that they did not want be under the subjugation of al Qaeda and had begun to fight them, long before the surge was announced and certainly long before the additional troops had arrived. After the troops began arriving, al Sadr declared a truce for 6 months, which was later extended to another 6 months, resulting in a reduction in violence.
Shiites and Sunni had already been cleansed from each others' neighborhoods, through killing and/or driving the opposite faction to another neighborhood or out of the country entirely (2 million of the former and 2.5 million of the latter), making the killing less necessary. It is likely that a combination of all these factors, in addition to the increase in troop strength, caused the decrease in violence we have seen.
Who can say with certainty that 90 percent of that decrease might not have occurred, even without the surge?
The surge may very well have led to the present situation in Afghanistan. Was it worth that price? I think not.