The Money Surge

The Money Surge

In an effort to bolster the surge and tamp down violence in Iraq, the US military is buying off insurgents. But what happens if they don’t stay bought?


If you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em off.

The newest news coming out of Iraq has it that the United States is hiring the people we were fighting not many weeks ago.

“U.S. commanders are offering large sums to enlist, at breakneck pace, their former enemies, handing them broad security powers in a risky effort to tame this fractious area south of Baghdad in Babil province and, literally, buy time for national reconciliation,” writes the Washington Post‘s Sudarsan Raghavan, “Officially, we will not deal with those who have American blood on their hands,” said Col. Robert Balcavage, 42. “But how do you know? You don’t. There’s a degree of risk involved. A lot of it is gut instinct. That’s what I’m going on. They didn’t teach me how to do this at West Point.”

The new pay-instead-of-shoot policy was started not long ago in Anbar Province, where American forces have not been able to prevail. Buying off the other side seems to be working. Attacks have gone way down since the enemy’s fighters have been hired by the United States at about $350 a month.

So far, once on the payroll, men previously described as America- hating fanatical jihadists have switched over to a don’t-bite-the- hand-that-feeds-you policy. Bombings and bushwackings are way down.

The question is whether these men will stay bought. Nobody knows the answer to that. If they do decide to stick with their paymasters through the end of September, David Petraeus, the American commanding general, will be in a position to make highly optimistic noises when he delivers his long-awaited status report on the surge to Congress.

It seems that there actually have been two surges. The first, and most publicized, is the one that brought re-enforcements to Iraq this spring. Their lasting effectiveness is a matter of debate. It is the second surge, the money surge, that has delivered measurable returns so far. Ah, greenbacks über alles!

If the former insurgents/guerrilla fighters/American-killing freedom- haters stay bought for a year, we may find that instead of having to fight our way out of Iraq, we can buy our way out. We can as long as the Republicans do not start screaming about blood money, rewarding the enemy, paying ransom or defeat. Should they say things along those lines they will, of course, have a point.

Buying off the other side is hardly the stuff of military valor. We are not likely to erect a statue of General Petraeus acting as paymaster to a line of gritty, murderous-looking Arabs. Those of us of a more ironic disposition will probably be inclined to give the General a wink and a medal, but our war eagles are not going to like it.

At best the odds on the success of a policy of paying the enemy not to fight us are only not-so-much. We have passed out almost 200,000 weapons to supposedly friendly forces. These weapons are likely now being used against us. Half the time we do not know what the hell we are doing, but we rush to do it anyway.

From Afghanistan to Bosnia, wherever the United States has sought to use Muslims by training and arming them, they have wound up fighting us. The American record of understanding the Arab Muslim world and anticipating events in it has been worse than abysmal.

What, if you will pardon a Bush-like phrase, will the enemies of America make of the money surge? The answer is unavoidably simple. They will conclude that if you stay tough and fight until America’s casualties start hurting, the Yankees will pay for a truce and safely skedaddle.

Well, it is an exit strategy of sorts and, if it works, some of us can draw a certain satisfaction from it as we watch the Iraqis resume fighting with both sides using weapons we were generous enough to give them.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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