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Ten years ago next month, the U.S. military changed tack in a messy Iraq occupation, launching what’s simply known as “the surge.” Today, experts are still fighting over it. Even among those who credit Gen. David Petraeus and his counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy with turning the Iraq War around, there are competing theories on why it worked. Some have argued forcefully that it wasn’t the surplus of American troops or shift in tactics that put an end to the sectarian war that rocked Iraq in the months leading up to the surge, but rather that the war had simply bled itself out by the time we decided to get involved. Those who say it didn’t work at all can point to the subsequent rise of ISIS — whose leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was reportedly radicalized while being held in a U.S. detention facility — and the fact that Baghdad is now firmly under Iranian control; here, they argue, is proof that the surge did little more than allow the U.S. to leave Iraq with its dignity intact.
The U.S. military Tuesday morning announced the death of a service member in a firefight that injured four more American troops in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province on Jan. 1 — the first U.S. combat fatality of 2018, and a stark reminder of the challenges facing U.S. troops in the year ahead.
With the White House mulling a new troop surge in Afghanistan, “War Machine,” a dark comedy about the last time we tried this, is exactly what we need right now. On the surface, the feature-length film from writer-director David Michôd — streaming on Netflix starting today — is an examination of post-colonial hubris. Brad Pitt stars as an eerily familiar four-star general tasked with doing what no other foreign military leader could: winning in the storied Southwest Asian graveyard of empires.