Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 22, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

OBAMA ON THE SURGE....Over at the Corner, Andy McCarthy berates Barack Obama's explanation for the reduction in violence in Iraq ("What you had is a combination of political factors inside of Iraq that then came right at the same time as terrific work by our troops"):

Does Obama think the Sunni Awakening and the Shia militia stand-down are somehow separate developments from the surge and the brilliant performance of American forces? If he really thinks that, it's dumb.

Hmmm. Let's roll the tape:

  • February 2006: Muqtada al-Sadr orders an end to execution-style killings by Mahdi Army death squads.

  • August 2006: Sadr announces a broad ceasefire, which he has maintained ever since.

  • September 2006: The Sunni Awakening begins. Tribal leaders, first in Anbar and later in other provinces, start fighting back against al-Qaeda insurgents.

  • March 2007: The surge begins.

Say what you will about the surge, which does indeed deserve a share of the credit for reducing violence and increasing security in Baghdad. But it pretty obviously wasn't related to either the Shia militia stand-down or the Sunni Awakening, since both those things began before Petraeus took over in Iraq and before the surge was even a gleam in George Bush's eye. American troops played a role in the Sadr ceasefire and (especially) the Awakening, but the surge itself didn't — and without them, the surge would certainly have failed. Obama has it exactly right.

Kevin Drum 2:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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Comments

Ah, yes--the old "ante hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy . . .

Posted by: rea on July 22, 2008 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

For five years all the rethugs could muster was STAY THE COURSE. Americans screamed for somthing other then stay the course.The Surge the Surge they all cry.Well the surge is not some magical military offensive.Surge is short for MORE TROOPS IN HARMS WAY.

Posted by: john john on July 22, 2008 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Let's not forget that the surge also was helped by the de-facto partitioning of at least Baghdad into ethnic neighborhoods.

Posted by: Tom Ellis on July 22, 2008 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

The "Surge" = politics.

Posted by: Bob M on July 22, 2008 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

"Tribal leaders, first in Anbar and later in other provinces, start fighting back against al-Qaeda insurgents."

I know this is the conventional narrative, but many articles, even one here in the Washington Monthly, have pointed out that the "Awakening" is less "fighting back against al-Qaeda, as it is Sunni tribal leaders deciding to take US support to eliminate their rivals, labeling each other al-Qaeda. Some of the "Awakening" leaders, themselves, were called al Qaeda a few months before, insurgents before that, ex-Baathists before that....

Posted by: flubber on July 22, 2008 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

The surge decreased Iraqi on Iraqi violence by increasing American on Iraqi violence, which some consider "terrific work."

Posted by: Brojo on July 22, 2008 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

I thought Sadr called for the ceasefire in August, 2007, following a Shiite attack on a major Shiite temple - it was a response to Shiite-on-Shiite violence. Was there another, earlier ceasefire?

Posted by: cmac on July 22, 2008 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Let's not forget the original objective of the surge. It was not to win a military victory; it was to buy time for the Iraqi government to come together (I'm sure I'm butchering the exact strategy, but this is close I believe).

What bothers me most about the recent discussion whether the surge worked is that we forget the military victory was simply the means to the end. It wasn't the end.

Posted by: Gary K on July 22, 2008 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK


So why is it that I keep getting the feeling that US troops laid low--that is, hung around the barracks playing solitaire--thereby avoiding any confrontation with the so-called "enemy"?

I mean, maybe it was sort of like they were practicing not being there at all. Wouldn't that in itself be an argument for getting the hell out of Dodge?

hancock

Posted by: hancock on July 22, 2008 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Tom Ellis touched on it, but to put a finer point on it - we (the U.S. military) have turned Baghdad and Fallujah as well, into urban prisons. There are now huge blast walls and razor wire separating neighborhoods to prevent ethnic violence. On top of that, a good part of the 15-50 yr. old male population is dead, wounded or has been displaced. Read Patrick Cockburn, the most honest Western reporter in Iraq, if you don't believe me or read some of the bloggers operating out of Iraq. There is literally no one left to kill or be killed. The Mahdi army standing down has also contributed to the relative calm, albeit a false one.

Only a sick, deviant war-lover like John McCain would call the slaughter and humanitarian catastrophe we have created in Iraq, a "success". I'm disappointed that Kevin has bought into this facade, as well.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 22, 2008 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

By Bush's own stated surge goals and benchmarks, the surge has largely been a failure. There has been some limited positive developments in Iraq, but correlation is not cause.

Posted by: AJB on July 22, 2008 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

I really don't care if the surge worked or not. The fact is the Iraqis have asked us to leave pretty much on Obama's timetable. This is the same Iraqi government we helped standup. It is now time for us to stand down. McCain's protests to the contrary not withstanding it is time for us to declare victory and come home.

This week Obama has demonstrated that unlike McCain he is not a slave to some slogan or other. I am tired of immaturity in the oval office. I want an adult as president. That is why I am voting for Obama.

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 22, 2008 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Say what you will about the surge, which does indeed deserve a share of the credit for reducing violence and increasing security in Baghdad. But it pretty obviously wasn't related to either the Shia militia stand-down or the Sunni Awakening, since both those things happened before Petraeus took over in Iraq and before the surge was even a gleam in George Bush's eye.

It also didn't achieve the goals Bush himself cited -- didn't come close.

Not to mention the completion of the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad mentioned above.

And even today McCain says the so-called "success" is "fragile" -- some success!

Posted by: Gregory on July 22, 2008 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

what august 2006 ceasefire? wasn't it a year later, 2007?

Posted by: bob on July 22, 2008 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Even better yet, I swear either in announcing the surge or at sometime before it was actually started I think Bush (although maybe it was Petreaus) actually mentioned the already ongoing Sunni Awaking in a speach.

Posted by: Napoleon on July 22, 2008 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

And what of Amewican political developments?

Had it not been for those wascally Amewican voters sending all those pwetty pink swips to Wepubwican Congwesspeople in November 2-ot-6, no suwge woulda happened, Wumsfeld would still be wunning the wacks in Abu Gwaib and Guantanamo, and Eye-wackys would be dying a little fastew than the pwesent pace that they hit the heavens.

It may be convenient to suggest the Daffyduck-in-chief came up with a stwategy-in-a-vacuum that pwoduced a miwacle, but it took a ho buncha changes in wealities to get him to stop diddling awound cutting bwush on his wanch and do something constwuctive to shutdown the Wepublican pwofiteewing plan of endless killing.

Posted by: Kevin 'Fudd' Hayden on July 22, 2008 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks for this post Kevin. Well done.

Posted by: Eric Martin on July 22, 2008 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

1) The Bush Administration under employs military assets as suggested by the NeoCons against what was requested by the Military based on the results of Vietnam and Gulf war I.

2) The post "mission accomplished" events are unmanaged, under resourced and unplanned. Things get worse

3) The administration fires general after general over a 3 year period because they want more troops.

4) Donald Rumsfeld is told he did a heck of a job and is the removed.

5) Troop strength is increased to numbers required in the first place and things get under control.

6) If the proper number of men were employed in the first place they would have probably been home 1 or 2 years ago.

7) We shouldn't have been in Iraq in the first place.

8) There was no Surge just a correction of years of stubborn stupidity.

Posted by: muffler on July 22, 2008 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

George W. Bush enacted a policy that actually affected events that happened before?

And you said he wasn't a great president!

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on July 22, 2008 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, yes--the old "ante hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy . . .
Absolutely hilarious!

Posted by: slag on July 22, 2008 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

The unstated fact behind the successful surge statements is, that to say otherwise is to commit heresy against our warfighter-worshipping religion. By saying that maybe just maybe, these changes may have been caused because of other events, Obama has committed heresy, and in all due time he will be burned at the stake for it.

In our new warfighter religion, only constant praise for our warriors is allowed. As well as praise for only the most bellicose of leaders. To so much as suggest that a proposed military project might not succeed, is both defeatism, and an insult against our brave warriors, and will not be tolerated.

Posted by: bigTom on July 22, 2008 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Yesterday, Andy was trying to push the "Maliki was mistranslated" story down the memory hole, now he's revising recent history, Soviet style.

This is not news.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on July 22, 2008 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

The high level of casualties in 2006-7 was due to the ongoing civil war between the Shiites and Sunnis. The civil war is over. The Shiites won. Four million Iraqis are now refugees, three million of them Sunni (out of a total Sunni population of six million). One of the worst cases of ethnic cleansing in the last hundred years and it happened on our watch.

Posted by: Jose Padilla on July 22, 2008 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

The "broad cease fire" declared by Sadr appears to be the one from August 2007, not 2006. However, if one wants to put the surge in perspective, one should look at casualties from violence, both Iraqi and American. By most non-partisan accounts, the surge has bought time and decreased overall casualties.

The question is this- without the surge, would we have seen less or more violence than we see today?

Posted by: Yancey Ward on July 22, 2008 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

If we put the requested number of troops in the country in the first place and then had strategy to rebuild and exit would we have needed the "surge"?

Posted by: on July 22, 2008 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

Here's what President Bush said the surge would accomplish (details here): "To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November." That didn't happen. "To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis." That didn't happen. "To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs." That didn't happen. "To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year." That didn't happen. "And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws..." That happened, kind of, but they aren't enforcing the laws. "...and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution." That didn't happen either.

Posted by: kirkaracha on July 22, 2008 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. McCarthy is probably the most authoritarian of the numerous hacks inhabiting the Corner. As such, he has no problem calling torture not torture and spying on American citizens not spying on American citizens, so it isn't surprising he gets his facts wrong. It is truly scary that someone with his viewpoints was actually a U.S. Attorney. He is the posterboy for the current crop of conservatives: they want the Government out of your pocketbook (or at least out of the pocketbook of the rich) but all powerful when it comes to privacy issues.

Posted by: Jim on July 22, 2008 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

The question is this- without the surge, would we have seen less or more violence than we see today?

No, the question is this -- without the attack on and invasion of Iraq by the United States, would we have seen less or more violence than we see today?

Posted by: Stefan on July 22, 2008 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

What seems to be missing in this mindless "did the Surge succeed" debate is a clear definition of the national interest. If your definition of the national interest is "winning the war on terror," the Surge is a failure or, at best, a vary expensive holding action with a mediocre potential. It required allocation of resources to Iraq that could have gone to Afghanistan, where the Taliban and al Queda are resurgent and troop casualties are way up. We know who to target there. We don't in Iraq. The point that Obama is implicitly making is that he wants to succeed in the war on terror by destroying and rogue elements like al Queda, not by winning some nebulous and unattainable "victory" in Iraq that, under the terms implied by Bush and McCain, essentially means perpetual American hegemony that will bleed us dry and achieve nothing in the long run. As others have noted, the Surge and other related measures only put a lid on the tensions between Sunni and Shiite. Those have to be resolved by Iraqis, not us.

It seems like Obama thinks the question of whether the Surge succeeded is irrelevant if you don't take the opportunity afforded by the reduction in violence to drastically reduce your footprint in Iraq. The Surge is just a temporary tactical move to buy time, and only makes sense if you get out and, by doing so, push for organic solutions from within the region. Remember, it was supposed to be TEMPORARY. The Sunni Awakening and the Sadr cease fire are far more important, and were likely facilitated more by greasing palms and the actions of regional players(i.e., Saudis and Iranians).

What's fascinating is that Obama is actually pushing transformational warfare, while Bush and McCain are still fighting the Cold War. The Middle East in not post WWII Western Europe or South Korea and islamic extremists are not the Soviets.

Posted by: georgia pig on July 22, 2008 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

surge is short for more troops in harms way.

well, to be exact, "mtihw" is short for "more troops in harms way."

"surge" is short for "sending ur relatives to get eviscerated."

Posted by: skippy on July 22, 2008 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

Olbermann reported on Countdown that Katie Couric had an interview with McCain for tonight's newscast, and he essentially made the same claims that the surge somehow preceded the Anbar Awakening, etc.

Couric: Senator McCain, Sen. Obama says, while the increased number of U.S. troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias. And says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What's your response to that?

McCain: I don't know how you respond to something that is such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel McFarlane (phonetic) was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/07/22/eveningnews/main4283813.shtml

Stunningly, CBS chose to cut that answer out of the part of the interview that aired. McCain shows he has no clue as to the history of the Iraq War -- all the while lambasting his opponent for supposedly not having a clue -- and the so-called liberal media decides that's not newsworthy.

Sweet Jesus.

Posted by: TR on July 22, 2008 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,
You've got one piece of your chronology wrong. Sadr's ceasefire came in August 2007, not 2006. Still, it was not because of US troop as much as it was a result of intra-Shi'ite squabbling in Karbala and Najaf out of control.

See my post a The Moderate Voice for more detail on this.

Posted by: Elrod on July 22, 2008 at 9:26 PM | PERMALINK

I guess Andy doesn't read NRO:

Frederick W. Kagan
National Review Online
September 3, 2007 5:00 PM

The Gettysburg of This War

...

The “Anbar Awakening” happened before the “surge” and independently of it, and will continue whether or not U.S. forces remain.

...

Posted by: sam on July 23, 2008 at 7:35 AM | PERMALINK

However, if one wants to put the surge in perspective, one should look at casualties from violence, both Iraqi and American.

No, to put the surge in perspective, one should look at the goals for the surge set out by the Bush Administration itself. And by those measures, the surge has failed.

By most non-partisan accounts

One wonders what partisan -- but riggedly individualistic! -- tool Yancey Ward considers a "non-partisan account;" suffice to say it's probably wise for his minimal credibility he didn't name any.

the surge has bought time and decreased overall casualties.

At a cost, of course, of additional American casualties due to more troops beign in harm's way. Even McSame points out that the reduction in voilence is a "fragile" situation, meaning there's no long term stability in Iraq.

But Yancey gives away the game by citing "bought time." It's clear that, insofar as the surtge was to buy time for Iraqi political stability, the surge was a failure. But it did achieve its true goal -- derailing efforts to implement the American people's desire to withdraw and to punt the mess of Iraq into the lap of the next president, whom Bush fluffers like Yancey will blame, dishonestly, for the subsequent and inevitable failure -- read: withdrawal -- of the American occupation.

Posted by: Gregory on July 23, 2008 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

But Yancey gives away the game by citing "bought time." It's clear that, insofar as the surtge was to buy time for Iraqi political stability, the surge was a failure.

Sadr continues his cease fire. The National Government moved into Basra and a series of other enclaves by a mix of force, threat, and peaceful negotiation. The Sunni group just rejoined the government after a year in the wilderness, in recognition of Maliki's rising at least slightly above his sectarian roots. At night you can fly over the city and it looks like a regular city, lights on, cars cruising around. An amazing turnaround.

Posted by: SJRSM on July 23, 2008 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

At night you can fly over the city and it looks like a regular city, lights on, cars cruising around.

But if you actually walk or drive around the city without a massive military escort, you're still likely to get fucked up but good.....

Posted by: Stefan on July 23, 2008 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Yea, maybe, you and me. Standing out like sore thumbs in the wrong parts of the city. But life is going on for Iraqis down on the streets. My own observation (just got back) and lots of others. Could obviously go to hell in a handbasket. Mosul is still a tough fight. I'm hoping that all of this effort has teed up an opening foreign diplomacy win for Obama if he takes the White House. Maliki stepping up and acting like a leader of a sovereign country is good.

Posted by: SJRSM on July 23, 2008 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Necessary condition for a causal relationship: cause comes temporally before effect.

Charles

Posted by: Charles Moore on July 23, 2008 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

I guess being 25% right is good enough for government work and blogging at WA Monthly.

It was Aug 2007 when al Sadr called a ceasefire, right after the Karbala unpleasantness. It was Feb 2007 when al Sadr ordered his militias to end execution-style killings. What triggered the spate of killings by his squads in the first place was the Golden Mosque bombing, which happened in Feb 2006. The surge began in Feb 2007, not March. I can't believe you're this bad on basic facts, Kevin. The Anbar Awakening did begin in Aug 2006, so one out of four isn't bad, no? BTW, the Anbar Awakening happened because MacFarland employed standard counterinsurgency tactics (as you can see here), which are stunningly similar to the tactics that Petraeus employed country-wide.

I think you should re-roll your tape.

Posted by: Bird Dog on July 23, 2008 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

SJRSM: My own observation (just got back) and lots of others.

Oh, you should have pretended to be posting from there, just like you pretended to be posting from "garrison" and the IP revealed you were posting from...your basement.

A rich fantasy life is good. Pretending to a continuing military career...not so healthy.

Posted by: Posting in Moderation on July 23, 2008 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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