There is something awfully odd about today’s big Washington Post story on the proposed troop surge. The headline reads, “Critics Say ‘Surge’ Is More of The Same,” and the article hammers that point home: “A sense that the White House is preparing more of the same is generating deep skepticism among Democrats in Congress.” The problem is that the article fails to report on the genuine tactical changes being proposed by the chief advocates of the surge.
True, the Post reports (in passing and with minimal emphasis) that, “The main difference under the new plan is that additional troops would be concentrated in the Baghdad vicinity…and the increase could last longer [than past increases]….” But this only begins to get at the point. The tactical keystone of the surge, as proposed by its main advocates, Frederick W. Kagan, General Jack Keane (U.S. Army ret.), and Senators McCain and Lieberman, is that American troops will not simply clear certain critical neighborhoods in Baghdad, but will also remain to hold them. That is, American soldiers will remain in Baghdad’s neighborhoods, rather than returning base, as they’ve done in the past. This is a major tactical shift–a conscious break from the practices favored by the generals now being replaced–and Kagan and Keane have stressed the significance of this change repeatedly. (For details, see “Iraq: A Turning Point. ”)
Perhaps the president’s plan will not finally adopt the tactics recommended by Kagan and Keane (and seemingly endorsed by McCain and Lieberman). Yet it seems to me that a fair news story ought to at least report that the chief public advocates of the surge are indeed offering substantially new tactics. The Post does report that the novelty of the surge is that it would be concentrated in Baghdad, and that it would last longer than previous surges. But the new plan to keep American soldiers in critical neighborhoods rather than sending them back to base, is what makes sense of the whole proposal, and confirms its novelty. Without reporting on this aspect of the proposal, the Post reinforces the arguments of the surge’s critics, without giving a fair shot to its advocates. In fact, the whole article, from the headline to the chart, is an effort to back up Democratic critics, without even conveying the key argument of proponents of the surge.
I’m not saying the surge is bound to work. On the contrary, I can see plenty of ways in which a surge might fail. But the Kagan-Keane plan has at least a prospect of success, and that’s more than we can say for the battle plan we’ve been relying on up to now. In any case, a fair news story on this issue would not look like the story in the Post today.