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February 20, 2007

Judging the Surge
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

A fascinating thing to watch over the next few weeks and months will be the Congress, the media, the Administration, the military and the American public's evaluation of how the "surge" is going.  Last week there was some qualified good news about the initial American sweeps of Baghdad going more smoothly than expected.  The weekend brought more bombings and then yesterday's unprecedented attack on a US installation. 

The stakes in assessing the surge are high.  If it fails, its hard to imagine what new tack the Administration can take that won't amount to a tacit yet unmistakable admission of defeat. 

Progressives have, after 6 years of the Bush presidency, gotten used to being of two minds on the fate of Bush's policies:  on the one hand, they want the best for US interests (and especially for US troops), mandating that they hope against hope for the surge to succeed.  On the other hand, having been repeatedly and resoundingly vindicated in their critique of Bush's policy, they rightly judge that the sooner the facts on the ground make it clear to everyone that Bush's misadventures are just that, the sooner they will be forced to end. 

The media and the public have grown weary of years of being spun on the supposed invisible successes of the Iraq mission, and will treat claims of progress with skepticism.  With an additional 20,000 people in the field, the military may be torn between trying to keep morale up among soldiers whose tours are being extended, and not wanting to fuel the continued over-extension of US forces based on false hopes of potential victory.

One of two things will happen:  either the news out of Iraq will be so consistently and grindingly bad that the Administration's policy will fall apart.  Alternatively, there may be a battle of perceptions where some positive signs make it all but impossible to figure out the truth.


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What Ms. Nossel says about the difficulty of figuring out the truth would be true if one's primary measure of success were what was happening in Iraq.

One of the things that makes the American commitment in Iraq unsustainable, however, is its financial cost. If Gen. Petraeus' approach, of which the surge is a part, is successful, it is more likely to create a situation in which American forces will preside over an Iraq with reduced levels of violence and will have to stay there to prevent sectarian clashes from exploding as they have since last year, than it is to produce conditions under which the various factions in Iraq agree to a political settlement sufficient to bring stability to the country.

Success, in other words, is most likely to result in a kind of Arab super-Bosnia, perhaps less costly to the United States in blood but just as expensive otherwise. This country cannot afford success of that kind; American foreign policy cannot continue to be mortgaged to the future of one, mid-sized Arab country.

What exactly is the objective of the surge? Nobody knows. The Iraqi occupation resistance will, for the most part, avoid massed US troops and either lie low or reappear somewhere else. That's what I'd do. The US government propanda machine will of course declare victory and move on to the next phase of Operation Iraqi Fiasco, whatever that might be. Probably Iran as the resistors continue their own surge, which is being tied to Iran. Memories of the Russians in Afghanistan who were driven out by US-supplied anti-aircraft missiles. They (in Iraq) need to be tied to Iran--I'm sure someone in the Pentagon is working on that.

As Rummy continually pointed out, nobody can predict what will happen in a war. The darn things seem to have a dynamics of their own. The only sure thing is the profits they produce for arms merchants and US war service corporations. The health of the US economy now depends on continuing war (where I disagree with Zathras).

Don, did you get my posts on the "B" plan blog?

Last week there was some qualified good news about the initial American sweeps of Baghdad going more smoothly than expected.

What does "smoothly" mean here, Suzanne? Isn't the point of the surge to engage the enemy and kill more bad guys? The article seems to indicate that the surgents are having trouble finding insurgents to engage. The latter are all laying low or hiding. Is that a smooth operation or an unsuccessful operation?

How is this different from the initial invasion? The US blitzkrieg raced to Baghdad, with minimal resistance, but has spent the next four years fighting the soldiers who had melted back into their cities and towns. So I guess that part of the war went smoothly too.

Anyway, I would say the war has now passed several absurdist, Helleresque milestones, both in Iraq and on the homefront. Bush literally can't seem to remember what side of the conflict he is on, or else is simply so confused by what is happening there that he can't organize any humanly intelligible response. While the Sunni insurgency is having mounting success in killing our troops on the ground, and now in the air (see: helicopters/SAMs), and while death tolls from Sunni insurgent car and truck bombings continue to mount, producing the bulk of the civilian casualties in Iraq, Bush has decided to go on a weird fishing expedition for Shiite militiamen and phantom Iranians, who - if they were playing any significant role at all in killing our guys - are really a rather small problem compared to the Sunni insurgents who make up almost the entire other side in the war.

A further mark of of the creeping, degenerative imbecility overtaking absurdist Washington: we know that there are a not insignificant number of Saudi fighters in in Iraq, while finding actual Iranian fighters has proved, let's say, elusive. Interestingly, the Saudis in Iraq are probably all there to help Sunni insurgents kill Americans, while if there are Iranians in Iraq, most are probably there to help kill Sunni insurgents - the same people our side is fighting against. And yet Bush has a bee in his bonnet over these invisible Iranians.

Lately a phrase keeps recurring in my mind everytime I think about Iraq: "arroz con culos". My Puerto Rican brother-in-law taught it to me once. It means "rice with assholes", and refers to any crazy, mixed-up and malodorous stew of chaotic and corrupt human activity. That's what I think about now every time I think of this war, and the president and congress who oversee, debate and fund it - arroz con culos.

The notion that Iraq is so confusing that it's all but impossible to figure out what is going on there is a standard excuse proferred by those who do not want to know, and who lack the moral courage to pick a side in our domestic struggle over the war. It is challenging to figure out what is happening, but not impossible. I understand people who support the war and want to stay the course; I understand people who oppose the war and want to figure out how to end it quickly and get out. But do we really need yet another essay devoted to "what to watch" in Iraq, and Democratic - or "progressive" - positioning, with more tacit advice about how not to stray too far from either side, so that no matter how it all turns out there won't be too much of a price to pay? Shouldn't all thesae triangulators have picked a side by now?

Former Marine Cpl. Matthew Howard served two combat tours in Iraq, deploying with the 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division.

He served four years in the United States Marine Corps.

In a statement distributed to House and Senate sponsors of the resolution before the debate he explained his opposition to the war:

Sometimes it’s the post traumatic stress or the anxiety, the fear, the isolation. Sometimes it’s the false pretenses. Sometimes it’s the mass civilian casualties. Sometimes it’s the corporate profiteers. Sometimes it’s the faulty equipment and faulty planning or the lack of equipment and lack of planning.

The people of Iraq are suffering horrors hard to conceive on a daily basis because we are there.

And yet their only crime is that they were also victims of previous horrors under a different regime.

The people fighting us are fighting for their freedom -- to be free from foreign military occupation. While I despise their violence, unfortunately I can understand it.

Conditions are exponentially worse than when I invaded their country four years ago.

I saw this on my second tour of duty and continue to hear it from my brothers in arms today.

Hospitals are morgues, schools are landfills, streets are sewers.

We have overwhelmingly proven that we are not there to help these people.

Unemployment is hovering at 70% yet we import Pakistanis to run our chow halls. The country is in shambles and KBR gets to no bid contracts with no quantifiable progress.

I swore to uphold and defend the constitution. Instead I disgraced it.

I urge you all to honor the veterans placing themselves in death’s cross hairs and support this legislation calling for immediate withdrawal.

Don’t be fooled by those saying you must support the troops.

I never received support from this government.


I can write a book about the things we didn’t get issued, the things we were forced to pay for, the pointless missions we were told to execute.

Withdrawal is what we as veterans want, it is what the people of this country want, and it is what the Iraqis want.

You can’t win a crime, you can only stop it.? Please join myself and Iraq Veterans Against the War in finding the courage to put a stop to this war now.

I wish you'd put "bad guys" in quotes. We're talking here about Iraqi citizens resisting a brutal foreign military occupation. How about "patriots"? Other than that, you're right on regarding Operation Iraqi Fiasco, and the positioning attendant to it. I have the feeling here that we're always dealing with Think-Tankers jockeying for recognition from America-First politicians, having lost their moral lodestar.

So, we'll be watching Iraq for some time. What's left of it. Like Cindy Sheehan has said: Why are you still on the fence?

Actually, Cindy Sheehan's remarks were a little more colorful. Pungent, even:--

I got an email the other day and it said, “Cindy, if you didn’t use so much profanity there’s people on the fence’ that get offended”

And you know what I said? “You know what? You know what, god-damn-it? How, in the world is anybody still sitting on that fence’?”

“If you fall on the side that is pro-George, and pro-war, you get your ass over to Iraq, and take the place of somebody who wants to come home. And if you fall on the side that is against this war and against George Bush, stand up and speak out.”

But whatever side you fall on, quit being on the fence.

"What exactly is the objective of the surge? Nobody knows."

Isn't it always that way in war? You don't find out what the generals were thinking until afterward. Though this isn't so much a war as a failed occupation.

Still, we can look at the media and tell some things about it. What they tell the public can't be too far from what they tell the lower ranks or the soldiers will come home and tell their families it's all lies. So chances are the reports of the previous strategy were pretty accurate. We were taking unacceptable casualties and not accomplishing much, so the plan was to hole up in our bases and our mission was to train the iraqi army to go out and take casualties in our place.

But that didn't work. It will take 2 to 3 years minimum to train the iraqi army -- that is, it won't be ready for the foreseeable future. And reporters were saying that we were losing the capital city. So we had to do something different.

Our attacks in Anbar have been successfully keeping the enemy there on the run. They can't establish large supply bases or maneuver in large formations while we continue to raid them. We prove they can't protect their population from us. So we move into a town, and the insurgent mayor has to say "Oh thank god you're here, those nasty terrorists were terrorising everybody and making us do bad things, please stay and protect us." But of course we can't stay, we're just here to prove they can't declare themselves independent. If they did that we could move in again and the mayor would have to run with the militia or we'd kill him. We're denying them safe areas to get settled in, we can keep them running. But to the public it doesn't look like that's good enough, when we take the same town over and over it looks like failure.

So occupying the capital city looks like something we could actually do. We can use iraqi troops for whatever they're good for. It helps us find out what they're capable of when they have ferocious US troops ready to kill them for disobeying orders. And if it fails we can blame it on them.

We can make a show of force and claim a victory. If the media make the kind of objections you make, war supporters can blame the media for moving the goalposts etc. The goal can't be to kill as many insurgents as possible. At this point that would be genocide. The goal has to be something else. Persuade them they can't win this year, that they have to wait 2 years for us to leave and maybe they'll make fewer attacks and we can say things are improving.

There might be other goals. If we could kill al Sadr, that would be a plus. He's one of the main supports for the iraqi government but he's been talking for 4 years against the occupation. We don't want him around if he says we should go home. His militia has been providing security for a big part of Baghdad, and if we can make them quit then their part won't be any more secure than anywhere else and we won't look so bad in comparison. Maybe we could help get the sunnis out of the capital.

After the surge we'll get a new plan regardless how the spin goes on how this plan worked. We always need a new plan.

The current operation doesn't have a fancy name like previous ones (Operation Together Forward I and II) and has a new buzz-phrase. The old phrase was "clear, hold and build", the new one is "clear, hold and retain". Major General Fil is in charge; he explains the new concept: -- That is different than "hold and build" in that involves the application of force to do so and is the direct application of our soldiers and the Iraqi security forces to move into neighborhoods, to move into areas and to maintain their presence there full-time in order to secure that piece [sic] there, that stability, the control and the retention, and to allow the neighborhoods to get on with economic development, infrastructure development, and again to allow the nation of Iraq to get on with governing.

Got it? He also said we'd have a pretty good idea on how it's working by late summer. It's the old "six months" gambit. The Iraq war has been a series of six month things-will-get-better BS statements. Six months here and six months there, before you know it we have eternal war--which is the main idea.

Don and JT,

I have posted the response you ask for on the "plan B" Blog

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