Thursday, November 15, 2007

Iraq: The Sleight of Hand Surge

To beg from a favorite expression of my grandmother's, I don't know whether to laugh or cry over the latest "good news" from Iraq. As we begin the twelve-month countdown to next November's election, friends of the Bush administration are once again declaring "mission accomplished" in Iraq.

An editorial in the November 12th Los Angeles Times by David B. Rivkin Jr., a former Bush II policy aide (and Donald Rumsfeld apologist), stated, "By every objective measure of military performance, the United States' surge of military forces into Iraq has been a great success." The next morning, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough squealed, "The surge has worked." On November 19th, Kimberly Kagan, wife of surge architect Frederick Kagan, wrote in a Weekly Standard article titled "How They Did It" that "With violence falling sharply, Iraqis are no longer mobilizing for full-scale civil war."

All this right wing hoopla conveniently ignores the Baby Ruth floating in the punch bowl: 2007, the year of the surge, has seen the largest annual toll of U.S. troop deaths (854) in the history of this woebegone war, and we have the rest of November and December left to go.

Well, all right, not everybody in the administration has ignored this. Colonel Steven Boylan, General David Petraeus's personal public affairs officer, says, "We knew going into this that with the new strategy there was a potential for more casualties." In other words, we knew more troops were going to die so it's okay that they did. See how neat that works?

And nobody in the Bush camp too seems upset about how many troops died this year because not very many of the troops who died this year died in the last three months, and according to administration echo chamberlain Richard Benedetto, the last three months are all that really matter in the killed in action department, and bad on the darn old liberal media for not bringing that to everybody's attention. Sure, it's tough about all those other troops who got killed four or more months ago, but war is hell, haven't you heard? Plus, when you get right down to it, the troops who were killed in the last three months really shouldn't count either, according to Benedetto's reasoning, because there were so darn few of them. Relatively speaking, that is.

The neocons are making hay out of the reduced number of roadside bomb attacks, despite that fact that on November 12th four American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb. That same day, an American soldier was killed while conducting combat operations in Anbar, but that didn't stop the neocons from continuing to chortle how well things are going in that province. You'll also hear congratulatory rumblings about how well Iraq's security forces are progressing, despite six Iraqi policemen in a town outside Mosul being gunned down in front of their own police station recently. The gunmen? They got away, of course. How's that for police work?

To call what's now happening in Iraq a "great success" because bad things have happened less in the last three months than in the previous several months is exactly like saying losing one leg to a roadside bomb is preferable to losing two legs to a roadside bomb. That's true in a Rovewellian sort of way, but the only thing in this analogy I'd consider a "great success" is losing zero legs to a roadside bomb.

But however great, small or in between you care to measure the military performance of late in Iraq, the surge's successes have been at the tactical level, and we're long past the point in this war where tactical victories can be touted as signs of strategic progress. The surge's stated aim was to provide breathing space for Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki's unity government to get its act together, and there's no sign of that happening. As Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post wrote recently, "Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq." Even Kimberly Kagan confesses that "Whether the political developments that were always the ultimate objective of the surge can be brought to fruition remains to be seen."

What's more, the region is less stable than ever. Increasing talk of establishing separate autonomous regions for the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds ups the odds that our "ally" Turkey, historically fearful of Kurdish nationalism, will invade Iraq from the north. Our other ally, Pakistan, has become what the administration tells us we should be afraid that Iran might turn into: a Muslim country with nuclear weapons that could fall into the hands of terrorists.

Whatever you do, don't fall for any stated or implied message that the surge's overwhelming triumph is the thing that's allowing planned reductions of U.S. troop levels in Iraq. The coming drawdown, if one can call it that, was an integral part of the surge from the beginning, and it had nothing to do with projected success or failure. It had to do with how long a force already stretched opaque could sustain an escalation. The surge had to begin its ebb around New Year's, and was fated to putt out in the summer of 2008. Even so, the current plan to reduce the 167,000 troop level presently in Iraq to 140,000-145,000 by July will leave 10,000-15,000 more troops in country than were there when the surge began. Some drawdown.

One tends to wonder why the administration still expends so much effort spinning the war in lieu of winning it, until one considers that this latest propaganda operation may benefit a GOP presidential candidate who came out foursquare behind the surge back in January, and one doesn't need help from one's mommy to figure out who that candidate might be.

Post Script

A November 20th New York Times story titled "Baghdad Starts to Exhale as Security Improves" tells of enhanced conditions in the capital city. "Days now pass without a car bomb" and "The number of bodies appearing on Baghdad’s streets has plummeted to about 5 a day." Baghdad "only" saw 15 suicide bombings in October.

Librarian Suhaila al-Aasan and her family recently returned to their apartment in the Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad. So far, her family is the only one that has returned to the apartment building. Her part of Dora "still looks as desolate as a condemned tenement." On most days, Iraqi soldiers are the only "neighbors" Mrs. Aasan sees.

What's her number one piece of "good news?"
Mrs. Aasan said she was thrilled and relieved just a few days ago, when her college-aged son got stuck at work after dark and his father managed to pick him up and drive home without being killed.

Thrilled and relieved that her son and husband weren't killed while driving home.

If that's "great success," Marlboroughs are a cure for lung cancer.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.


  1. Anonymous10:49 AM

    With multi million dollar bases being built in Iraq, by, guess who, why is there talk of us ever leaving Iraq. Seems this is the first 'order' of discussion, with the rest being meaningless with this in mind.??

  2. Anonymous2:38 AM

    Hey A-hole,

    No one likes war. No one likes to see people die, especialy American boys and girls. War IS Hell. How many people do you know who are serving? How many people do you know who died serving their country in this conflict? Better yet, how many families of fallen soldiers have you had conversations with? i just get so tired of listening to the comments and opinions of people such as yourself, who claim to be abovr it all. Like you have some sort of better understanding of loss and sympathy and tragedies of war. We are in a battle against evil in the middle east. You can't honestly believe our government and generals have fought the war they wanted to. You just can't. And, if you were really being honest, you would admit that our troops have had their hands tied by the likes of the people who participate in this blog. For once, just cut the bullshit, remember that we are all Americans, in a fight for our perpetuation. Don't waste your life up on a soapbox, spouting off words and claims that your grandfather and his father would not agree with. We were once a great nation, and we could again be hat way again. But, people like yourself need to either wake the fuck up, or shut the fuck up. Either way, it would help our country. Think about it.


  3. cpalm,

    In saying that we're "in a fight for perpetuation," I can only assume you mean you're concerned the evil doers will keep you from having heterosexual intercourse and reproducing. You now have me wondering if there's a way we can convince them to do just that.

    If you decide to ever come back here and post a comment again, leave your vocabulary and manners at home where they're appreciated.

    Jeff Huber

  4. Anonymous2:40 PM

    Hey Infectiouslink:

    I know a number of people who are currently serving in Iraq and our family is currently trying to help a young Navy survivor of an IED put his life back together, so please do not use the argument that I am separated from what is happening on the ground.

    Criticizing and questioning our policies, and the reasons that we are in Iraq are valid exppressions of doubt in a free republic. If someone is doing something wrong, he or she needs to hear about it. If we, as a nation are on a wrong path, we need to both hear about and fix it.

    As to your comment about us fighting evil over there, I'm sure that was a primary motivation for the soldiers that signed up to go. However, that does not excuse the manipulation of events and evidence by their (political)seniors that put them there.

    We were once a great nation, and in many respects we still are. However the real secret to greatness is being great and living according to the values of that greatness. Pushing our "greatness" and our democracy at the end of a gun only diminishes that which is great within us. Some of what we fight might be genuinely evil, but most of those inflicting casualties on us are doing so because we are occupying their land. I would do that too if someone came into this country and tried to impose his lifestyle and values on me while raping me and my family economically.

    By the way, I paid for the right to post this with 26 years of loyal service in the U S Navy.

    ADCS USNR-R(ret)

  5. Anonymous11:40 PM

    Jesus H Christ on a bike

    Wouldn't you know one of the illiterate 'wingnuts' would eventually turn up to spew their garbage into one of cyberspace's few sane little acres.

    The troops haven't had their hands tied by the bloggers here moron. They were tied by 'Mission Accomplished' Bush, 'Unknown unknowns' Rumsfeld, Dickhead Cheney,Doug (Dumbest man alive) Feith, and the rest of 'we know more than the military' smart ass civilians who've never spent a moment of fear in their lives. They sent them to the wrong place (Iraq instead of finishing the job in Afghanistan, Osama who?) , for the wrong reasons (non existent WMDs, contribution to 9/11 etc), under manned by at least half (hence the 100K+ mercenary fill-ins) totally ill-prepared (inadequate vehicles and body armour)without a clue what to do once they put them there (disband the police and army) then wondered why it went to hell. Up to 600K Iraqis have died and approx 4 million have been displaced (out of 25 million)CREATING enemies you previously DID NOT HAVE.

    Meantime The Home of The Brave passed a PATRIOT ACT without a day's debate and the Land Of The Free organized a gulag (Camp X-Ray) that would do Soviet Russia proud and renditions (sounds like a singalong - with water poured into your mouth)

    I would suggest you read a book or two (Ricks' Fiasco, Packer's Assassins Gate, Woodward's Plan Of Attack) cpalm but looking at your blogsite it's obvious you'd be challenged by 'My Pet Goat'.

    One of the more illuminating posts was he's cut back on the swearing on his blogsite out of deference to his Mommy.(well someone's gotta read it)

    Keep up the great work as always Jeff.

  6. Anonymous1:28 AM

    One of the LTC's recently killed I had served with on active duty when he was a 2LT. The son of one of my brothers'-in-law flies SeaHawks in the Gulf. I somehow was blessed without combat duty, but my father served two tours in Vietnam (punji stake holes in both feet, a broken back, and a severe loss of hearing after experiencing what it's like to take a 122mm rocket direct hit on his bunker). Grandfather Cooper was just a hair too young for the British draft during WWI, but Great Grandfather Cooper got to kill for queen-and-country (and the East India Company) for twenty years in India as a solider and NCO. Oh, and one of my uncles jumped with the 82nd on D-Day.

    All of which is blood, sweat, and tears wasted if the policies behind this suffering didn't accomplish a whit.

    And that, cpalm, is the real "point" of the spear.

  7. I also have my own personal theory as to why there has been a sudden lessening of violence in Iraq, I feel that every moonbat Islamic terrorist in the world it literally drooling at the prospect of Pakistan falling into some sort of disarray bordering on total anarchy thus allowing them the opportunity to possibly take possession of at least a few OF those nukes…

    And not ALL right leaning folks are like infectiousInk, just like not all left leaning folks are like the majority of the moonbats that inhabit Dem Underground...

    Nice rebuff Jeff, your professionalism wins every time...

  8. Anonymous6:26 PM

    texasfred, Jeff: According to ABu Aardvaark, the US is in for a long haul.

    "'I attended a talk today by Stephen Biddle, a first-rate military strategist who has been working with General Petraeus, about military progress in Iraq (Nora Bensahel of RAND and Lawrence Korb of CAP also spoke). I had to leave before the Q+A, so can't say anything about the full event, only about his half-hour long opening remarks. Overall, he presented a rosier portrait than I would have, based on his recent ten day visit to Iraq, but he's a serious guy so I take him seriously - though I noticed that he concentrated almost exclusively on the local level progress and hardly mentioned Maliki or the national political level at all. Without getting in to his arguments or my reservations, I just wanted to lay out Biddle's best case scenario as he presented it: if everything goes right and if the US continues to "hit the lottery" with the spread of local ceasefires and none of a dozen different spoilers happens, then a patchwork of local ceasefires between heavily armed, mistrustful communities could possibly hold if and only if the US keeps 80,000-100,000 troops in Iraq for the next twenty to thirty years. And that's the best case scenario of one of the current strategy's smartest supporters. Man"

    A good discussion on this over at

  9. fnord,

    Thanks so much for the story and the link. Hm. Sounds like what I've been talking about. A Cold War style, long term occupation.


  10. Anonymous11:46 PM

    Someone should tell the "New" Cold Warriors that the BRD at least had a government that wanted us to be there for what turned out to be 50+ years. And even then, there was the Bauder-Meinhoff, Red Army Faction, and various radical factions of the Green Party that could make life selectively quite miserable for the occupiers.

    By comparison, a central government that is both strong and supportive of the occupation is non-existent in Iraq, and there is no likely improvement in this situation for the long term. The myriad factions of Kurds, Shia, Sunni, nationalists, xenophobes, and terrorists, have the ability--at the time and place of their choosing--to do much more the occupation than make it miserable.

    I see no evidence that Gen. Patraeus has figured out any way to deny these groups freedom of action. Whatever the circumstances maybe now, the fact remains that these groups are armed, operational, and completely free to strike. Military opponents that are beaten are: 1) disarmed; 2) dead, disbanded, or destroyed; and 3) have no significant tactical capability.


  11. I first read this post on linked from Lew Rockwell and was just sickened by the comments against it, and surprised to see more on this site. I'm glad to see you take them in stride. Get used to these chumps saying we lost Iraq like VietNam because the military was betrayed by lack of support on the home front. Bolshoi! America has never lost a declared war, and never will. We lose when we fight for bogus and unconstitutional reasons - If America is ever really threatened, we will unite and STOMP A**, because that is what the military is for, not social work. Thanks for your service and sacrifice, and thanks especially for seeing through the NWO smoke like infrared...

  12. Thanks for the words of encouragement, RM. Yeah, I'm taking a lot of incoming rounds these days, and it looks like it will get a lot worse in future. But I'm pretty used to it by now, so...

    I knew this job was dangerous when I took it! ;-)

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