The Gamble is the title of a book by Thomas Ricks that I have been reading for the past couple of months (too much tv watching, not enough reading). It is the second book Ricks wrote about the Iraq War. His first book, Fiasco, described the disaster that ensued after our invasion of Iraq in 2003. The title of The Gamble is a reference to the surge in troops and effort in 2006 that essentially prevented a disaster, both on the ground here in Iraq and for the US on the international stage. The surge was more than just an increase in the number of boots on the ground. It was also a major change in strategy, operations, and tactics. At the strategic level the focus shifted from figuring out how to get out of the country as painlessly as possible to protecting the Iraqi people. Operationally, US forces began working with and even hired insurgents who had been attacking them just weeks or even days prior. The significant change in tactics was putting troops out into the local populace. This helped the troops learn the area they were protecting, ensured insurgents couldn’t move into the area after the US left, and, most importantly, encouraged the Iraqis to assist in the security operations rather than tacitly or overtly supporting the insurgents. No one can now say the surge didn’t work (I was among the skeptics at the beginning).
I assume you heard about the 30 June deadline for us to move our forces out of Iraqi cities. That date was established as part of the Security Agreement signed between the US and Iraq. Prime Minister Maliki, the leader of Iraq, declared 30 June as a national holiday on par with Iraq evicting the occupying British forces in 1920. Not exactly a “thanks for a job well done.” You may have heard about a memo from a senior advisor in Baghdad that was recently leaked (go here for a link to a NYT article about it). This advisor, Col Reese, says we should declare victory and go home. The current plan is to reduce our combat forces in Iraq to 50,000 (currently about 130,000) by August 2010. Col Reese says we should completely leave the country by August 2010. At the end of The Gamble, Ricks presents many competing theories about how long the US should remain in Iraq. They range from proposals similar to Col Reese’s to keeping combat forces here indefinitely. The author himself thinks we are only at the halfway point of our time here, meaning we will be here until 2015 or later. My problem with all of those theories is they are based on what the US wants to do. What about the Iraqis?
I think there soon will be a second gamble in Iraq. The gamble this time will be by the Iraqis though, not us. Not only have we left the cities, but now we defer to the Iraqis to lead operations against the insurgents. I’ve often heard times when the Iraqi Army told our guys to stay home because they don’t need us. I don’t have a problem with that. This is their country and they should shoulder the responsibility for it. I’m just not sure the Iraqis are ready for it. Regardless, I think whoever wins their national elections in January 2010 will tell us it is time for us to go. We may get until August 2010 just because the sheer logistics of it, but they will want us out sooner rather than later. Sorry mom, I don’t think this means I will be coming home early. The Iraqis will need the USAF and other, specialized groups to remain because they don’t have the capability to replace us yet. The rules for us are changing and they are being written by the Iraqis. I’m certain, whether they are truly ready or not, they will become even more assertive after next year’s elections. I pray that they are ready.