Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sorry, John - It Wasn't The Surge !

The last few days have not been good for John McCain. After casting his lot with an extended war in Iraq and staying until a final victory is achieved, it seems like everyone, even his friends have turned against him.

Obama has been saying for some time that he would withdraw all the troops from Iraq within a general timetable of 16 months. A few days ago, the Iraqi leader (Maliki) also began to press for a timetable for withdrawal. He even went further and said Obama's timetable sounded about right to him. Then George Bush succumbed to pressure from the Iraqis and agreed to "time horizons" -- he couldn't bring himself to call it a timetable.

The American public is further from McCain's position. Over 63% of Americans would like to see the troops withdrawn within a year. This left McCain out in the cold on the withdrawal situation. So for a few days he's just been repeating that the surge was his idea and it worked, and Obama should admit that. But is it the truth?

In the first 6 1/2 months of 2008, over 220 Americans and more than 4,000 Iraqis have been killed. That is a long way from victory, but it does reflect a cut in the number of deaths. McCain would have us believe the troop surge was responsible for the smaller number of deaths. Some of the media are buying his argument.

But the truth is that two other things happened in Iraq about the same time as the troop surge, and both of them probably had more to do with the drop in deaths than the troop surge did. First, many of the Sunni tribal chiefs stopped supporting al-Queda and began to fight them. Second, al-Sadr declared a truce and ordered his Shiite brigades to not attack American troops.

Without those two things happening, it is highly doubtful that the troop surge would have had any effect at all. Also, with the two things occuring, the drop in the number of deaths would have happened even without a troop surge.

I realize that McCain is grasping at straws to try and maintain his credibility regarding the Iraq war, but his argument that the troop surge worked just doesn't hold water.


  1. So what do you think caused the Sunni tribal chiefs to stop supporting Al-Qaeda and Al-Sadr to declare a truce?

    Just curious.

  2. In October 2007, I wrote a post at Ivory Dome on this topic entitled Sahawa!.

    Please note that "[o]n October 14, forty Shiite and Sunni leaders (including Hakim and Abu Risha) met in Ramadi, the birthplace of Sahawa, under the protection of the U.S. Army. [Emphasis added]

    The Surge wasn't just an increase in the number of American boots on the ground. It was a strategic rethinking of how to turn the tide by facilitating new coalitions among various Iraqi factions.

    And revisionist history notwithstanding, it worked.

  3. That's a perfect example of revisionist history.
    You know perfectly well that when Americans talk about the "surge", they are talking about the addition of the extra American troops.

    P.S. - I'm all for Iraqis fighting their own war. Just bring all the Americans home and end the occupation.

  4. I don't usually like to play the numbers game (I still remember the farce of body count during the Vietnam War), but since we're on the subject...

    Here are the month-by-month U.S. casualties in Iraq. Let me point out a few trends:

    From the beginning of the troop buildup in January 2007 until its apex in June of that year, U.S. casualties rose to a high of 121 in May, then began decreasing.

    By September 2007, casualties had dropped to 62. The next month, when Sunni and Shiite sheiks met under the auspices of the U.S. Army, casualties dropped precipitously to 37 and have yet to return to pre-meeting levels.

    Something (or some-things) caused casualties to drop. Would it be too much for you to concede that the troop buildup and concommitant shift in strategy might have had at least some part in it?

  5. I've already said what I believe is true.

  6. I've read that we paid the various factions not to attack us. I'm in no way complaining about that. Heck yes, do all you can to protect our people. Getting them out of that insanity would be even better.

    If what I read about bribing a lessening of violence is correct, then was it done to truly bring the violence level down as its sole motivation or perhaps it is also an attactive activity for those who can then claim that the surge has worked as a military strategy.

    Surge in dollars spent?


  7. Here's probably the most balanced analysis of this issue that I've read to date. It's a Newsweek article entitled McCain v. Obama: Who's Right on the Surge?

    Author Larry Kaplow acknowledges that "McCain is right that the troop increase was important, perhaps the key when combined with their new tactics, in turning the country around." [Emphasis added]. No mention about us bribing the Iraqis, though.

    Kaplow goes on to acknowledge that Obama is also right that there were other factors in play, such as the Anbar Awakening and the al-Sadr truce. No mention here of the U.S. Army's role in brokering the Shiites joining the Anbar Awakening in October 2007, though.

    The bottom line is that 2007 and the first half of 2008 has been a "perfect storm" of positive convergence in Iraq. Rather than quibbling over who's to bless and who's to blame, we should all be working for a way to make this progress permanent.

    I have a personal interest in getting our troops out of Iraq; my son-in-law started his second tour in April of this year, and I want him to be around to see my first granddaughter grow up (she's almost 8 months old). But pulling our troops out too soon could result in him going back into a much more hostile environment. Let's finish the job right before pulling out.

  8. NO! I disagree with you. Bring our soldiers home now, and let the Iraqis settle their own problems. They're the only ones that can. Our staying there is just delaying the inevitable and costing American lives.


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