The Price of the Surge
STEVEN SIMON is Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. From 1994 to 1999, he served on the National Security Council in positions including Senior Director for Transnational Threats.See more by this author
This article is part of the Foreign Affairs Iraq Retrospective.
In January 2007, President George W. Bush announced a new approach to the war in Iraq. At the time, sectarian and insurgent violence appeared to be spiraling out of control, and Democrats in Washington -- newly in control of both houses of Congress -- were demanding that the administration start winding down the war. Bush knew he needed to change course, but he refused to, as he put it, "give up the goal of winning." So rather than acquiesce to calls for withdrawal, he decided to ramp up U.S. efforts. With a "surge" in troops, a new emphasis on counterinsurgency strategy, and new commanders overseeing that strategy, Bush declared, the deteriorating situation could be turned around.
More than a year on, a growing conventional wisdom holds that the surge has paid off handsomely. U.S. casualties are down significantly from their peak in mid-2007, the level of violence in Iraq is lower than at any point since 2005, and Baghdad seems the safest it has been since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime five years ago. Some backers of the surge even argue that the Iraqi civil war is over and that victory on Washington's terms is in sight -- so long as the United States has the will to see its current efforts through to their conclusion.