Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Resurrecting a Modern Myth: "The Surge Is Working"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Resurrecting a Modern Myth: "The Surge Is Working"

Article excerpt

Back in the good old days of the Vietnam War, Gen. William Westmoreland, President Lyndon B. Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara kept sending more troops into battle, calling it "escalation." It was a term fraught with negative meaning, but capitalizing on the horrible public relations experience of that war, George Bush has since hired PR experts who have given it a new name, i.e., "surge." It sounds much better, and-despite the horrors of what's happening in Iraq-Bush and his political clone, John McCain, are chanting the mantra, "the surge is working," meaning the escalation is working. Senator McCain has come out for victory and against surrender in Iraq.

What Senator McCain means by "the surge is working" is that he sees America as winning the war in Iraq and therefore, in order to finalize the victory there, we shouldn't stop what we are doing. Aside from never explaining what he means by "winning the war," McCain also hints that American casualties are way down because of the escalation. That chorus is intended to help him win the presidency this fall.

The Escalation and U.S. Casualties

In January of 2007, when Bush first announced his escalation, U.S. troop levels were at 132,000. By then the government had counted 3,044 dead Americans. Iraqi civilian deaths continued to mount, however.

By March 2007, U.S. troop strength had reached 152,000. On March 27, 2008 Senator McCain told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "General Petraeus goes out there every day in an unarmed humvee..." But he later acknowledged that there is no such thing as an unarmored humvee.

In April 2007, U.S. troop levels had reached 160,000 soldiers. In June 2008, the American command acknowledged that it was arming and passing money to Sunni tribes formerly allied with al-Qaeda who, after the money was passed, have promised to fight their former allies alongside their former enemies-the U.S.

In September 2007, when Gen. David Petraeus told Congress that the escalation had largely met its military goals, U.S. troop strength had reached 168,000. By the following month, U.S. military casualties had dropped to levels that were lower than any before. For example, 37 U.S. soldiers died from combat in October; in November, 35 died; and in December 2007, 23 died. From January through July 2008, the U.S. lost 215 American soldiers to combat. That, obviously, is a relatively good thing, compared to the earlier, much heavier losses.

My preference would be no Americans lost-which would have been the case had Bush not lied in 2003, and invaded Iraq that year.

The drop in casualties has little or nothing to do with the escalation.

But what neither McCain nor Bush is including in the "surge is working" mantra is a series of factors that more accurately explain the drop in casualties, a drop that has little or nothing to do with the escalation. In fact, the drop in casualty rates coincided with the near completion of the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis that the Shi'i militias had undertaken in Baghdad. In effect, the Sunni minority already had either been killed, had fled to other parts of Iraq, or had fled to Syria and to Jordan to save themselves and their families. Syria now has about 1.5 million Iraqis who are refugees from the killing fields in Iraq, and Jordan has about 750,000 such refugees. …

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