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Monday, September 22, 2008

No John, 'The Surge' Didn't Work

Refugees flee violence in IraqLast week wasn't John McCain's best week. A market meltdown exposed the shortcomings of McCain's ideology of deregulation and set him back on his heels. With 83 Wall Street lobbyists working on his campaign, McCain not only found himself in the position of being a Washington insider running against the Washington establishment, but as a Wall Street insider running against Wall Street. That didn't work so well. It was a gaffe-filled week for McCain-Palin, with both the candidate and running mate scrambling to find some sort of footing in the new political landscape.

In fact, the week was so bad for McCain that conservative columnist George Will took him out to the woodshed on ABC's This Week Sunday, telling the panel that he blew it on the economy.

"I suppose the McCain campaign's hope is that when there's a big crisis, people will go for age and experience," George Will said. "The question is who in this crisis looked more presidential, calm and unflustered. It wasn't John McCain, who, as usual, substituting vehemence for coherence said let's fire somebody and picked one of the most experienced and conservative people in the administration."

On the same show, Sam Donaldson wondered if there wasn't something wrong with McCain's head, asking if McCain wasn't "getting his talking points confused" and saying that "I think the question of McCain’s age is back on the table."

McCain made some foreign policy stumbles last week; confusing Spanish PM Zapatero with the Zappatistas in Chiapas, Mexico and the Colombian FARC, for example. This didn't get a lot of press, but enough to ding his claim to foreign policy expertise. We've already dealt with his fumbling on the economy, so that's scuffed his experience argument -- his experience consists of doing the kind of stuff that got us into this mess. Pretty much all McCain has left is the "right about Iraq" argument.

Of course, that argument ignores the fact that McCain was wrong about Iraq from the start, while Barack Obama opposed the invasion, but it seems to be working well enough for him. McCain's argument here is that, as long as we screwed up and invaded a nation that proved to be no threat to us, we might as well go ahead and win. That this is just winning for the sake of winning is, apparently, beside the point. In McCain's world, if you mistakenly pick a fight with someone and find out it's the wrong guy while you're pounding him stupid, you keep up your unjustified crime of assault and battery if you're winning. This is what John McCain refers to as coming home "with victory and honor." In John McCain's world, mistakes with death tolls in the hundreds of thousands can only be rectified by killing even more.

So it is that John McCain continues to tell us "the surge worked!" Of course, if it had worked, you'd assume the war would be over and people would be coming home. But I guess you'd be assuming wrong. Back in January, John McCain and Joe Lieberman co-authored an op-ed with the title "The Surge Worked." Subtlety isn't the strong point of these two.

After years of mismanagement of the war, many people had grave doubts about whether success in Iraq was possible. In Congress, opposition to the surge from antiwar members was swift and severe. They insisted that Iraq was already "lost," and that there was nothing left to do but accept our defeat and retreat.

In fact, they could not have been more wrong. And had we heeded their calls for retreat, Iraq today would be a country in chaos: a failed state in the heart of the Middle East, overrun by al Qaeda and Iran.

Instead, conditions in that country have been utterly transformed from those of a year ago, as a consequence of the surge. Whereas, a year ago, al Qaeda in Iraq was entrenched in Anbar province and Baghdad, now the forces of Islamist extremism are facing their single greatest and most humiliating defeat since the loss of Afghanistan in 2001. Thanks to the surge, the Sunni Arabs who once constituted the insurgency's core of support in Iraq have been empowered to rise up against the suicide bombers and fanatics in their midst -- prompting Osama bin Laden to call them "traitors."

Woohoo! We're just doing a bang-up job of beating the living hell out of the wrong guy. Yay for us. McCain, who claims credit for the idea, seems to believe that "send in more troops!" is a masterpiece of military strategy and not the most obvious thing in the freakin' world. If you listen to McCain, Bush, and just about any random Republican, the surge is the greatest military strategy since the D-Day invasion of Normandy. That Lieberman's and McCain's argument relies on pure BS shouldn't be lost on anyone -- neither al Qaeda nor Iran was responsible for the largest share of violence in Iraq. The country was in a civil war. The violence was mostly Iraqi on Iraqi.

And a new study by the University of California shows that it wasn't the surge that was so successful, but the civil war. What many suspected was the case turns out to be the case -- violence in Iraq fell because a period of ethnic cleansing went so well that the cleansers ran out of people to attack.

Foreign Policy:

Using free satellite imagery from the Department of Defense, researchers tracked electricity use in Iraq before, during, and after the surge took place. Electricity use (as measured by visible night-light) in Baghdad fell, notably in certain outlying neighborhoods where incidents of ethnic violence were documented by The Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces in Iraq.

"If the surge had truly 'worked,' we would expect to see a steady increase in night-light output over time," says Thomas Gillespie, one of the co-authors, in a press release. "Instead, we found that the night-light signature diminished in only certain neighborhoods, and the pattern appears to be associated with ethno-sectarian violence and neighborhood ethnic cleansing."

"By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left," said John Agnew of UCLA. "Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning."

I'd also add that the fact that the violence is down does not equate peace. Iraqis still suffer an unacceptable level of violence and the fact that the violence was once worse doesn't mean a whole helluva lot to people still having to deal with it on a daily basis. In fact, Iraq is so violent that the middle east still suffers from a massive refugee crisis, as people chased from their homes are too afraid to return. Yet Republicans would have you believe that Iraq is all sunshine, rainbows, and group hugs. "Al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq," President Bush told us, while neglecting to tell us that everyone else was as well -- on the run from racist killers and religiously intolerant psychopaths.

So, add McCain's "the surge worked!" triumphalism to the list of failures he chooses to showcase. The surge didn't actually accomplish anything -- in fact, despite the constant assurances that the surge is over, there are still more troops in Iraq than there were before the escalation. The escalation is ongoing -- making the word "surge" an abuse of language.

Every time McCain talks about this "surge," remember what really happened. Remember the dark and empty neighborhoods, cleared of the hated minorities and ungodly heathens. Remember the fact that one in five Iraqis is a refugee, chased out of their homes and still afraid to return. Remember that "the surge worked!" really means "ethnic cleansing was successful!" when translated from propaganda-speak into English. When McCain and the Republicans celebrate the success of their escalation, remember that what they're really doing is proposing a toast to hatred, intolerance, and violence in the name of religion -- none of which would've happened if we didn't invade in the first place.

Whether you're willing to drink to that depends entirely upon how much reality you're willing to ignore.