During the past week's debate over what should be credited for lowering U.S. casualties in Iraq (the surge of 30K additional troops, the Anbar Awakening, MacFarland's clear/hold/build strategy, etc.), there was little discussion about the U.S. policy of bribing Sunni leaders to tamp down violence. I've asked my foreign-policy friends about the current scale of such bribery and its impact on the decreased violence, but they shed little light. Among the few pundits who did broach the subject this week were Wes Clark and Juan Cole. The latter wrote:
Proponents are awfully hard to pin down on what the "surge" consisted of or when it began. It seems to me to refer to the troop escalation that began in February, 2007. But now the technique of bribing Sunni Arab former insurgents to fight radical Sunni vigilantes is being rolled into the "surge" by politicians such as John McCain. But attempts to pay off the Sunnis to quiet down began months before the troop escalation and had a dramatic effect in al-Anbar Province long before any extra US troops were sent to al-Anbar (nor were very many extra troops ever sent there). I will disallow it. The "surge" is the troop escalation beginning winter of 2007. The bribing of insurgents to come into the cold could have been pursued without a significant troop escalation, and was.
Beyond the question of how the bribery's impact could be clouding the debate over McCain's judgment on the surge, how much of a wild card will these bribes be when the U.S. pulls out of Iraq? I imagine bribes can be a smart, short-term tactic to elicit the support of undesirables. But over the long term, regular payments seem like a cure for the symptoms of unrest, not the underlying disease. If insurgents are suddenly yanked off the dole, how much will violence flare up again? And will those funds come back to bite us if they're used for weapons against our troops or allies?