But this setback need not have occurred. If the United States had not wasted the four years prior to the surge, committing one blunder after another, the insurgency need not have grown so strong. If the United States had pursued the reconstruction of Iraq competently, with the proper number of troops and an insistence that the new government structure also protect the interests of the Sunnis, the human and economic costs of the war might have been much smaller and its popularity much greater. The United States might then have been a credible threat to other countries in the region, and we might now be witnessing not merely the establishment of a nascent democracy in Iraq, but momentum towards freer governments throughout the region.
We can all be happy with the success of the surge and the possible benefits in the years to come. At this point, Iraq stands as a success for the Bush administration. But let’s not deceive ourselves into believing that the surge made up for the prior missteps.