The Surge Isn’t Working: Pulse on Iraq

CAP documents the growing consensus among experts that the unsustainable surge has failed to meet its primary objectives.

As any sixth-grader could probably tell you, three out of 18 is a failing grade on any test or report card. When the Center for American Progress recently evaluated President Bush’s 18 benchmarks for Iraq, we found that only three had been met since the surge began one year ago. But we’re not the only ones who’ve evaluated the evidence only to find that the surge has failed to meet its primary objective of political progress. A sampling of other experts, politicians, and journalists shows a widespread consensus that the surge isn’t working where it matters most:

"Judged on the terms in which the president presented it, the surge has not worked." "The purpose was to improve security, but to improve it to lead to a political breakthrough, and that political breakthrough has not happened."
Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post Pentagon reporter, Jan. 10, 2008

"The troop escalation has not succeeded in prompting the Iraqi government to make the hard choices or meet the benchmarks laid out by this administration. As General Petraeus told me in Baghdad, this surge can only be won politically, not militarily. But on national reconciliation, oil-sharing, and the other key issues that will allow U.S. forces to eventually withdraw without a return of widespread violence, the evidence is bleak."
Sen. Bob Casey, Jan. 18, 2008

"The surge has worked, but it is all temporary… without some sort of reconciliation. We don’t see any reconciliation."
-Independent Kurdish Legislator Mahmud Othman, Sept. 12, 2007

"From the Washington beltway, Iraq looks more ‘stable’ because American generals are using cash to temporarily manipulate local tribal interests, but when the Sunni Arab tribes coalesce to fight for control of Iraq, the façade of progress will collapse and the violence will be worse than before."
Col. Douglas MacGregor (ret.), Jan. 8, 2008

"By shifting the conversation to tactics, they seek to divert attention from flagrant failures of basic strategy. Yet what exactly has the surge wrought? In substantive terms, the answer is: not much…As the violence in Baghdad and Anbar province abates, the political and economic dysfunction enveloping Iraq has become all the more apparent."
Andrew J. Bacevich, Professor of History, Boston University, Washington Post, Jan. 20, 2008

"The surge has sucked all of the flexibility out of the system… And we need to find a way of getting back into balance."
-Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, Jan. 17, 2008

"2008 and beyond will be a success, the surge will be a success, if the gains in security can be translated into gains in stability…if I had to put a number to it, maybe it’s three in 10, maybe it’s 50-50, if we play our cards right."
Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle Eastern Affairs, Jan. 8, 2008

"Administration strategy (at least since last January) has been that security gains would provide breathing room for democracy and good governance to take hold. If you reread Bush’s speech announcing the surge almost exactly a year ago, you’ll see a number of fairly explicit political events that he said would happen in Iraq. Haven’t happened, for the most part."
-Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, Jan. 8, 2008

"Iraqis have not used the opportunity provided by the slowdown of sectarian killings to engage more effectively in a national dialogue and reach accommodations. The United States, despite its demand for the Iraqi government to meet benchmarks, has not made the political process in Iraq its highest priority."
Rend al-Rahim Francke, December 2007

"With the recent lowering of violence in Iraq, we assume that counterinsurgency doctrine applied by competent military outfits has reduced and almost removed the enemy from the equation in Baghdad. It is very possible, however, that the enemy has removed himself temporarily and is waiting for the opportunity to renew the fight when he feels ready."
Col. Gian P. Gentile, Jan. 2008

"[Maliki] has achieved nothing—no national reconciliation… no reform of the army, no reform of security bodies, no services. He failed in each and every one of them."
-Iraqi Islamic Party leader Usama al-Tikriti, Sept. 8, 2007

"I don’t think there is something called reconciliation, and there will be no reconciliation as such."
Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, Oct. 8, 2007

"The surge hasn’t accomplished its goals… We’re involved, still, in an intractable civil war."
Sen. Harry Reid, Dec. 3, 2007

"Unfortunately, according to the President’s own measure the surge has failed. The troops have performed bravely and violence in Iraq appears to be diminishing. But there is still no political plan to turn the recent tactical gains into lasting strategic success or a plan for bringing our troops home."
National Security Network, Jan. 9, 2008

"The violence came down for four reasons: what we’re doing, the decision the Sunni combatants made to turn against al-Qaeda, Moqtada Sadr’s ceasefire and the prior ethnic cleansing of 2006 and early 2007. All those things could unwind. We’re unsurging. The talk is that for the next couple of months, if the Maliki government doesn’t do enough to appease the Sunni groups [that have turned against al-Qaeda] and incorporate them into the Iraqi security forces, they could go game-on again. This kind of—pick your metaphor—ticking clock, or closing window, gives a reason to believe that if there isn’t a series of political compromises by when the surge brigades leave we’ll be in real trouble."
-Colin Kahl, Center for a New American Security, Washington Independent, Jan. 31, 2008

Kahl’s comments confirm the existence of what Brian Katulis and Peter Juul have called four ticking time bombs to watch in the coming months in Iraq:

  • The collapse of “bottom up” reconciliation among Sunnis
  • Increased instability in northern Iraq
  • The continuing plight of refugees and internally displaced Iraqis
  • Continued deadlock among Iraq’s national political leaders

The consensus is clear. Despite the best efforts of our military men and women in creating a temporary lull in violence, substantial progress toward a sustainable and independent Iraq has not been made. It’s time to implement a Strategic Reset in Iraq so that the United States can take control of its own national security interests in the country and in the greater Middle East.

For more on CAP’s policies about Iraq, see:

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.