Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why is No One Challenging This Notion That the Surge is a Success?

So the new thing in the McCain campaign is to retort Barack Obama's claims of superior judgment about the disaster of starting the Iraq War with claims of superior judgment about the success story the "surge" turned out to be. And this story of campaign talking points gets passed around in the surficially non-partisan election-year coverage from the media without any analysis. What gets lost in this traditional election year back-and-forth is that the fiction about the surge's success remains unchallenged.

It's like everyone has forgotten why we had this surge of troops in the first place. We were tired of getting our asses kicked, so congress set up the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group to come up with some things we could do to stop the hurtin'. When their report came out, Bush ignored most of the recommendations and keyed in on a footnote developed by some of the more hawkish members which suggested that the U.S. increase the number of soldiers in Baghdad by lengthening tours and whatnot. Strategy was developed to give purpose to these extra brigades, and the White House came up with the overarching goals, including reducing the violence enough to allow the Iraqis to come up with and enforce their own laws, training Iraqi security and law enforcement more quickly, and in general guiding Iraqis towards stable democracy. Good points certainly, but it required Iraqi leaders to take up the initiative. This is why the strategy was flawed.

The surge started in January of 2007 and would last through this month, July 2008. The new Democrat-controlled Congress gritted its teeth and passed many non-binding resolutions in full awareness of their lack of constitutional oversight into the executive branch's war powers. But they did manage to pass what would turn out to be completely irrelevant benchmark legislation that required the military to evaluate itself. They did evaluate themselves, dishonestly but still poorly, and the surge bumbled along. After the reporting frenzy of September 2007, the media started not caring about Iraq anymore, choosing instead to start Election 2008 coverage.

It wasn't until about November 2007 that violent attacks finally started to decline, which mostly went unnoticed at first. Eventually the media caught on to the fact that merely dozens of Americans instead of hundreds of Americans were being killed every month and reported it unequivocably as a success story, even though about a thousand Iraqi civilians still die every month from sectarian gunfire and suicide bombers. But since the whole stated purpose of the Surge was dependant on the Iraqis developing a functioning civil society, can we really call it a success? Have the Iraqis properly dealt with their problem of training militia members who turn around and become loyal to sectarian leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr? Are the national police loyal to the state? Are the Iraq Security Forces able to take our place yet? Do the people recognize the Iraqi parliament as the creator of laws? Are there oil-revenue sharing laws yet (I actually don't know about this one)? If these benchmarks of the surge aren't met, how can we call the surge a success? Someone needs to call John McCain's bluff.


Jacob said...

October 15, 2008
Hofstra University

Discredited Newsman: Senators McCain, Obama, welcome to this third and final debate. My first question is for you, Senator Obama.

Barack Obama: Alright.

DN: Senator Obama, your opponents have repeatedly criticized your lack of support for the surge. You, yourself, have said that if you had a second chance, you would still not support the surge. Will you come out today and call the surge a success?

BO: Well, listen, DC. I have always supported the troops and their fighting - they have done an excellent job and what they have been asked to do. What I, uh, have refused to do...what we haven't seen is Iraq taking over for themselves. The important thing was not a decrease in violence, but getting the Iraqi government up and running.

John McCain: Blah blah success blah blah.

October 16, 2008
Every newschannel in America

Talking Head: Obama said that violence on American troops was unimportant.

Steve said...

Oh, he's walked back from worse.

Excellent transcript of speaking style, btw.

And also, speaking of small private eastern universities, I just learned today that Connecticut had land claimed in Ohio at the turn of the century, known as the Western Reserve for which Case Western Reserve University got its name. And that Wilkes-Barre, PA was chartered originally as a Connecticut city because the Connecticut charter granted a strip of land for the colony from Atlantic to Pacific oceans, minus a bit for New York. But I bet you already knew that, but its fascinating to me.

Jacob said...

I didn't know about "turn of the century" or Case Western in particular. I did know that Connecticut originally claimed a thin strip going west from the other side of New York (it's in lots of Colonial-era maps). I always found it kind of shameful and unbecoming of my home state to be so ridiculously greedy.

Anyway, to be less glib, I think the real answer to your question is that the American public doesn't handle nuance well. From a cost-benefit standpoint, I think the chances of flubbing an attempt to articulate the distinction between the two sides' definition of success is too high, and (so far) just dodging the issue hasn't hurt anyone enough.