Is the "surge" working? Both the American and the Iraqi governments have sounded a note of slight optimism recently. Even the news that the US is to send more troops to Iraq could be taken as a good sign – the original announcement of 21,500 extra troops was at the very low end of what "surge" advocates thought was necessary – so dispatching further troops could be a signal that the Bush administration really is committed to making this new strategy work. Robert Kagan, a neo-conservative academic (and brother of one of the intellectual architects of the surge plan) makes the case that the "surge" is already producing progress.
I would love to believe Kagan is right. But the Iraq Body Count project, which monitors the violence in Iraq more closely than any other impartial group, does not agree. Its latest weekly analysis shows no let up in the violence, and is the usual compilation of gut-wrenching stories. The Swoop foreign-policy analysis service asserts that President Bush is being told privately that the new strategy is not working.
Next week I hope to visit the US. I will put it no more strongly than that. I have learnt not to take my right to visit America for granted – ever since being ignominiously deported in 2003.
When I rang my wife from Dulles airport to tell her that I was being put on the first plane home, she briefly feared that I was about to reveal a double life as an international drug-smuggler or pornographer. Nothing so interesting. I had simply forgotten to get myself a journalist’s visa.
The best stories of this sort usually involve the innocent foreigner being shackled or bundled off to the state penitentiary. Not in my case. The officials dealing with me were polite, sympathetic – but implacable. I protested feebly that I was a former Fulbright scholar who had lived in the US for several years. I had written for American journals, I knew important people, Britain was fighting alongside the US in Iraq. None of it cut any ice. As one of the immigration people explained: “We could have made an exception before 9/11, but not now.”