Monday, July 28, 2008

Successful surge?

Great article by Faiz Shakir of Think Progress (, detailing how the "surge" really hasn't done what it was supposed to do. The Republicans, though, have done a really good job of repeating the "surge is successful" line so many times that the press now repeats it as truth. Obama has not done nearly well enough in rebutting that falsehood, and now I think has given McCain a real opening to attack.

Remember, much like the Swift Boaters in 2004, what is actually true doesn't matter. It's what people believe at election time, and I am disturbed very much so that the Noise Machine is working its' magic on the "low-information voters" yet again.


In an interview on Tuesday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) asserted that the 2007 troop surge in Iraq "began the Anbar awakening," the process by which Sunni tribal leaders allied with U.S. force and turned against al Qaeda in Iraq. McCain also suggested that to disagree with his version of history "does a great disservice to young men and women who are serving and have sacrificed" in Iraq. In fact, it is McCain himself who has done a disservice to history.

The Anbar awakening began in the late summer and early fall of 2006, months before the surge was announced in January 2007. While the Anbar awakening is an important contributor to the drop in violence in Iraq, it is only one of several factors. Meanwhile, the stated goal of the surge -- Iraqi political reconciliation -- remains unmet.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED: The awakening began in the town of Ramadi in Anbar province in September 2006, under the command of Army Col. Sean MacFarland. MacFarland sought to build ties to local leaders to draw their support away from the insurgency. In his accountof the events in Ramadi, MacFarland wrote: "A growing concern that the U.S. would leave Iraq and leave the Sunnis defenseless against Al-Qaeda and Iranian-supported militias made those younger leaders open to our overtures." Eventually U.S. forces were able to establish credibility with local leaders, who turned against the insurgents. The new approach eventually spread outward to other Iraqi provinces. A second important factor in the decreased violence was the decision by Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to declare a "freeze" of his Jaysh al-Mahdi militia in the wake of violent clashes in the shrine city of Karbala in late August 2007. The Jaysh al-Mahdi had been regarded by the U.S. military as a threat equal to, if not greater than, al Qaeda in Iraq by virtue of their being an indigenous, nationalist movement with strong political support among poor Iraqis. Gen. David Petraeus himself recognized Sadr's cooperation as an essential component in the drop in violence in and around Baghdad. A third factor was the separation of Sunni and Shi'a Iraqis into protected enclaves as a result of a massive and terrifying campaign of sectarian cleansing by Sunni and Shi'a militias in Baghdad, and the construction of concrete barriers around these enclaves. The addition of 20,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq encouraged, supported, and consolidated each of these phenomena, but very likely could not have worked without them.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG: While Gen. Petraeus is credited with reviving the Army's counterinsurgency doctrine, the Anbar strategy that is the center-piece of the surge violates a central tenet of that doctrine in that it does not redirect political authority toward the central government. The deals that have been made are between Sunni tribal militias and U.S. forces, not the Iraqi government. The Sunni militias have not been incorporated into the Iraq Security forces in any substantial numbers, and questions remain as to their loyalties and intentions. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made clear that he views these militias as a threat to the authority of the central government. In a February 2008 report from the Center for American Progresson the Awakenings movement, Brian Katulis and others wrote that "what has been extolled as a central 'success' of the surge has also exacerbated existing political divisions and fomented new political cleavages in an already fractured and fragile Iraqi body politic. [The Sunni militias] are challenging each other, traditional Sunni Arab political parties, and the Iraqi government." Echoing this, Steven Simon wrote in Foreign Affairs that "the recent short-term gains have come at the expense of the long-term goal of a stable, unitary Iraq." Simon also wrote that the lack of accommodation between the Iraqi government and the Sunni militias "will impede Iraq's political development for years to come unless specific steps are taken in the near term to bring the Sunni army the surge created under the rubric of the state." Simon concludes, "These steps are not being taken."

GOAL OF THE SURGE REMAINS UNMET: When President Bush announced the surge in January 2007, he declared that the goal of greater security was to "help make reconciliation possible." More than a year and a half after that speech, this reconciliation has not occurred in any meaningful way. Though some benchmark legislation has been passed, most of these laws have been worded so vaguely as to make their implementation extremely problematic. On Wednesday, after months of intense negotiating, Iraqi President Jalal Talibani "rejected the recently passed provincial elections law... a move that appears to doom what has been touted as all-important legislation for the country." This is one of many indicators that, as Matthew Duss wrote in the Guardian, "no real consensus yet exists among Iraqis as to what the new Iraq will be." As evidenced by numerous statements from Iraqi government officials over the last months, "consensus does exist ... around the belief that no genuine, sustainable Iraqi unity can develop while the Iraqi government continues to be underwritten by a foreign military presence."

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