illustration, Capt. T. Patriquin
We're being showered with stories about the Surge's success. In Al-Anbar Province, deaths are down. In the Democrats' America, waffling statements are up. Surely something is working somewhere. Is the Surge succeeding?
That depends on how you define its mission. Is the Surge supposed to create the physical safety needed to support political change and stabilization, so that the U.S. can withdraw and leave a viable Iraq? If so, it's failing. Or is the Surge's purpose to intimidate Democrats, mislead the press, provide talking points for the Right, and confuse everybody else? It's succeeding very well in that mission.
Unfortunately, people are sacrificing their lives to make it happen.
Let's review the picture on the ground. "We've begun to change tactics in Iraq," Hillary Clinton said, "and in some areas, particularly in Anbar province, it's working." Admirable people argue she was not saying that the Surge "is working," but I have to disagree. Although she doesn't mention the Surge by name, and a parsing of her words might exonerate her, she left the clear impression that the Anbar situation was a result of the Surge. And Rep. Jerry McNerney was clearly wavering on his commitment to troop withdrawal after his government-sponsored Iraq tour.
But is the Surge working militarily? Let's take a look at Anbar province, where attacks are clearly down. Doesn't that mean we're on the right track? Unfortunately for the Right, they were touting the improved situation in Anbar in their usual organs before the Surge even started. (courtesy Nick Bradley). In fact, as Capt. Travis Patriquin explained in a PowerPoint presentation (warning: pdf) that became popular among troops and officers, the only way to defeat insurgents and foreign fighters is by reversing four years of Administration policy and allying with local sheikhs and other forces.
Unfortunately, this strategy involves allying ourselves with people that don't fit the stereotype of "enlightened democracy" that we're told is the Surge's ultimate goal. Sheikh Abdul Sattar, the warlord responsible for that success Sen. Clinton touts, is not exactly a Robert's Rules of Order kinda guy. From the National Review:
"In an overt (and televised) gesture of his determination and solidarity with the Iraqi government, Sheikh Abdul Sattar sliced the palm of his hand with a knife and proceeded to pound the blade into the table before him."
But if you want to show results for the folks back home, the way to do it is with allies like Sheikh Sattar.
That gets us to the Surge itself, which is concentrated in and around Baghdad. As in Anbar province, any improvements we may be seeing are the result of a Faustian bargain. In Baghdad, it meant cutting a deal with the same forces we dismissed to disastrous effect four years ago. Michael Ware observes:
"The surge has shown some successes. But the real success ... is coming from something totally different, and that is coming from America cutting deals with its former enemies, principally the Ba'athist insurgents, the Sunni insurgents. It's by cutting a deal with the Ba'ath Party on the terms that the Ba'ath Party offered America four years ago and had to wait for America to be battered into submission to accept that the tide has turned against al-Qaida. It's by unleashing the Ba'ath that the al-Qaida bombs are coming down, that the al-Qaida attacks are starting to slow down, not directly from the surge and not from the presence of U.S. troops."
The result of this short-term improvement in the statistics is a worsening of the long-term reality on the ground. Iraq is a more dangerous place, less likely to achieve the results we claim to want, as a result of our recent actions there. Ware again:
"What the U.S. troops are doing is giving a set of numbers, a series of data, a number of lowered attack figures that may give the military the political cover it needs in Washington. But at the end of the day, by cutting these deals the seeds are being sown for a much broader, more entrenched civil war that America will leave behind."
Is the Surge working? It isn't creating a safer Iraq, that's clear. But it's beginning to work very well on Democrats and the media. Its ultimate target is the American people, and its ultimate goal is tolerance for an extended occupation. It may well succeed at that.
Capt. Patriquin wanted the Surge to succeed, but he'll never know how it turns out. He was killed by an IED last December.
The next time somebody tells you the Surge is succeeding, ask them: At what?