Since when did the “Surge” succeed?

(12 am – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Crossposted to ePluribus Media, DailyKos, Docudharma and Below Boston

Maybe I missed something — that can happen. In real life, things can sometimes occur that are unexpected. But this seems almost surreal:


Obama website’s opposition to successful surge gets deleted

A funny thing happened over on the Barack Obama campaign website in the last few days.

The parts that stressed his opposition to the 2007 troop surge and his statement that more troops would make no difference in a civil war have somehow disappeared. John McCain and Obama have been going at it heavily in recent days over the benefits of the surge.


I distinctly remember posting this:

From the Pentagon: The Surge didn’t work.

That was back in January of 2008, only seven months ago.  According to the Wikipedia entry, there’s a mixed bag of results — a reduction of violence, but none of the stated political progress that “the surge” was supposed to achieve.  Steven Simon of the Council on Foreign Affairs had this to say in the May/June 2008 issue:


Summary:  The Bush administration’s new strategy in Iraq has helped reduce violence. But the surge is not linked to any sustainable plan for building a viable Iraqi state and may even have made such an outcome less likely — by stoking the revanchist fantasies of Sunni tribes and pitting them against the central government. The recent short-term gains have thus come at the expense of the long-term goal of a stable, unitary Iraq.


In my mind, this means that the “Surge” ultimately failed, particularly since the levels of violence appear to have only been reduced to pre-surge levels.

Nir Rosen of Rolling Stone wrote a piece in the March 2008 issue called The Myth of the Surge.  There are some interesting, and telling, observations within:


Having lost the civil war,


…the civil war that we were told wasn’t happening by pundits, in case you didn’t recall…


many Sunnis were suddenly desperate to switch sides – and Gen. David Petraeus was eager to oblige. The U.S. has not only added 30,000 more troops in Iraq – it has essentially bribed the opposition, arming the very Sunni militants who only months ago were waging deadly assaults on American forces.


Gee, that sounds a lot like the brief blurb I’d posted above the fold about how the Surge failed, and that reduced levels of violence were essentially because of a secondary plan by Petraeus was implemented.


To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq’s central government. The Americans call the units by a variety of euphemisms: Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias prefer a simpler and more dramatic name: They call themselves Sahwa, or “the Awakening.”


Um, yeah…”the Awakening.”  I think we need some folks on Capitol Hill to wake up, too…

Anywho, according to the piece, the “Surge” appeared to have had no real effect in the reduction of violence.

In fact, as recently as April 24, Time Magazine’s Mark Kukis wrote a piece called Is the Surge Backfiring? in which he made the following observation:


It remains to be seen whether the dozens of other combat outposts popping up around Iraq amid the surge will come to face similar attacks aimed at sending U.S. troops back into heavily fortified compounds and, in the hopes of insurgents, ultimately home to the United States in defeat.


A previous Time piece by Michael Duffy (with Mark Kukis), from January 24 of 2008 — several months earlier — gave an indication of what constituted progress. It was titled The Surge at Year One:


Before the surge, elements of al-Qaeda in Anbar province were carrying out grisly atrocities against local Sunnis, including women and children, who refused to join the jihad against Americans. The Sunnis approached the Americans for help, and Petraeus was happy to oblige. The local uprising against al-Qaeda is known as the Anbar Awakening, and it gave the U.S. a model for turning local tribes, clans and whole neighborhoods against the insurgents.


Again, confirmation of a strategy that fell into Petraeus’s lap.


Over the past year, the U.S. has sanctioned more than 125 local proxy armies, an ad hoc force of at least 60,000 that one could call “the other surge.” Known as Concerned Local Citizens groups (CLCS), these militias serve as watch groups, police forces and eyes and ears for U.S. forces all over Iraq. But while American commanders are delighted to have help, not all Iraqis are comfortable with the CLCS. Many in the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government worry that the citizens groups-which are mostly Sunni and in some cases are little better than street gangs-will eventually morph into antigovernment militias. Lately al-Qaeda has stepped up attacks on Sunnis who take up arms with the Americans.


Can these local groups make a substantial difference? Apparently, they have been — and hopefully, they’ll continue to. But where does that leave us? And how much has this, in turn, helped increase the effectiveness of the Surge?


As former Sunni insurgents have made common cause with the U.S., one of Iraq’s largest Shi’ite factions has been eerily quiet. In late August, for reasons that are still a little mysterious, Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army to desist from attacking U.S. forces. U.S. officials believe al-Sadr’s move was less about helping the U.S. than about purging unruly elements from his 60,000-man militia. Another interpretation is that al-Sadr is simply waiting out the surge and that his fighters will return to the fray when U.S. troops have withdrawn. Whatever the reason, Odierno reckons that al-Sadr’s cease-fire is responsible for a 15%-to-20% reduction in attacks on U.S. forces over the past year.


Emphasis mine

Ah ha.

So, if al-Sadr hadn’t ordered his army to desist, violence would be up 15%-20%.

From the executive summary of a report from the International Crisis Group comes this assessment:


Against the odds, the U.S. military surge contributed to a significant reduction in violence. Its achievements should not be understated. But in the absence of the fundamental political changes in Iraq the surge was meant to facilitate, its successes will remain insufficient, fragile and reversible. The ever-more relative lull is an opportunity for the U.S. to focus on two missing ingredients: pressuring the Iraqi government to take long overdue steps toward political compromise and altering the regional climate so that Iraq’s neighbours use their leverage to encourage that compromise and make it stick. As shown in these two companion reports, this entails ceasing to provide the Iraqi government with unconditional military support; reaching out to what remains of the insurgency; using its leverage to encourage free and fair provincial elections and progress toward a broad national dialogue and compact; and engaging in real diplomacy with all Iraq’s neighbours, Iran and Syria included.


Emphasis mine

The Surge contributed to the lessening of violence, but failed to facilitate the fundamental political changes that it was supposed to accomplish.

We know that as of April, the the reported numbers of trained Iraqi security forces are unreliable.  And as the economy continues its downward spiral in both foreign and domestic circles, this report from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) last September is overdue for a follow-up: (Abstract, reprinted in full; emphasis mine.)


There is a paucity of facts about the effects of the recent military “Surge” on conditions in Iraq and whether it is paving the way for a stable Iraq. Selective, anecdotal and incomplete analyses abound. Policy makers and defense planners must decide which measures of success or failure are most important, but until now few, if any, systematic analyses were available on which to base those decisions. This paper applies modern statistical techniques to a new data file derived from more than a dozen of the most reliable and widely-cited sources to assess the Surge’s impact on three key dimensions: the functioning of the Iraqi state (including violent civilian casualties); military casualties; and financial markets’ assessment of Iraq’s future. The new and unusually rigorous findings presented here should help inform current evaluations of the Surge and provide a basis for better decision making about future strategy.

The analysis reveals mixed evidence on the Surge’s effect on key trends in Iraq. The security situation has improved insofar as violent civilian fatalities have declined without any concurrent increase in casualties among coalition and Iraqi troops. However, other areas, such as oil production and the number of trained Iraqi Security Forces have shown no improvement or declined. Evaluating such conflicting indicators is challenging.

There is, however, another way to assess the Surge. This paper shows how data from world financial markets can be used to shed light on the central question of whether the Surge has increased or diminished the prospect of today’s Iraq surviving into the future. In particular, I examine the price of Iraqi state bonds, which the Iraqi government is currently servicing, on world financial markets. After the Surge, there was a sharp decline in the price of those bonds, relative to alternative bonds. This decline signals a 40% increase in the market’s expectation that Iraq will default. This finding suggests that, to date, the Surge is failing to pave the way toward a stable Iraq and may in fact be undermining it.


That’s not too promising, as it stands — since the report was issued in October 2007, and Petraeus’s strategy of essentially bribing militants into joining forces with the US troops started after the fact, the current status of Iraqi state bonds may have changed (anyone got those numbers handy?).

Overall, however, I think that it is fundamentally incorrect to label the “Surge” as a success: it failed.  Progress was made during it, but not directly due to it — it was incidental.  The primary goals and objectives were not accomplished, and may in fact be quickly eradicated should al-Sadr rescind his mysterious order that instantly quelled 15%-20% of the violence.

All this, and in the meantime our “success” in Afghanistan is unraveling.

No, the narratives that are currently assuming that the “Surge” was successful — and stating it as accepted fact — should be challenged.

The “Surge” was not successful; it failed to achieve its objectives.  The troops, however, appear to done better with a little help from the Iraqis themselves due to unique situations that presented themselves during — but not as a result of — the Surge, and their efforts have been largely successful with regard to reducing violence.  Combined with the inexplicable aid of al-Sadr’s cease-fire, violence in down, but without actually achieving the initial goals of the surge that reduction in violence will be a temporary one at best.


Skip to comment form

    • GreyHawk on July 16, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    This just struck me as “wrong” to allow to continue unchallenged.

    • Edger on July 16, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Since McCain and the media cornered Obama into saying it did, maybe?

    • brobin on July 16, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    Even the Iraqi’s are now asking us to step down as they step up.  

    Maliki and Sadr have obviously reached a side agreement to keep Sadr’s Mahdi Army out of the fray in order to get the invaders to Go Away!  Yet, BushCo doesn’t want to go away, and every time I hear a winger say that the Surgeā„¢ is a success, I tell them “Thank God.  We can bring our troops home now,” and they sputter and whine about how we can’t DO THAT yet!  It’s not time!  We need to make SURE that our investments are protected!

    Two faced as ever, the Republican’s I know personally still want to have it both ways at all times.  If there is profit in it, of course…

    • geomoo on July 17, 2008 at 6:01 am

    but paving the way for Obama to institute the policy he has planned all along without looking like too much of a hypocrite, which may be to continue as is, or to reduce troops but keep a substantial number there, or something else too fucked up for me to think up on my own.  Perhaps this is just a prelude to hearing from Obama as CinC how things are improving in Iraq.  Ugh.

  1. 1.  The govt lies to us about the Surge tm.

    2.  The candidates lie to us about the Surge tm.

    3.  Traditional media and the talking heads and pundits lie to us about the Surge tm

    4.  The candidates take “nuanced positions” about the Surge tm and argue with each other about who has a bigger penis whether it is working.

    5.  The Surge tm really isn’t working and won’t, but only in Left Blogsylvania is this secret fact known because elsewhere everybody knows that the Surge tm is working.

    6.  Thank goddess that major league baseball resumes tonight.   Please call me the day before the election to remind me to vote for Obama, who by then will be the more moderately conservative candidate, who supports the Surge tm in Afghanistan.      

  2. We will seize the control from your hand.

    We will fan the flame

    Of our anger and pain,

    And you`ll feel the shame

    For what you do in god’s name.

    We will fight for the right to be free

    We will build our own society

    And we will sing, we will sing

    We will sing our own song.

    • Mu on July 18, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    I did this diary the other day which, I’m disappointed to say, didn’t get the attention I hoped it would.

    Keep banging this drum against the bullshit “surge has worked” meme.

    Mu . . .

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