McCain: Effects Precede Causes in Iraq
Here’s an interesting Q&A from Katie Couric’s interview with John McCain.
Kate Couric: Senator McCain, Senator Obama says, while the increased number of US troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias. And says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What’s your response to that?
McCain: I don’t know how you respond to something that is as– such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel McFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that’s just a matter of history. Thanks to General Petraeus, our leadership, and the sacrifice of brave young Americans. I mean, to deny that their sacrifice didn’t make possible the success of the surge in Iraq, I think, does a great disservice to young men and women who are serving and have sacrificed. [emphasis added]
In other words, John McCain is making the claim that the “Anbar awakening” occurred as a consequence of the Surge. The problem with this claim is that the awakening clearly preceded it. As Dave Wiegel points out, the “awakening” began around September of 2006, while the Surge did not begin until early 2007. Indeed, as Matthew Yglesias points out, Colonel (now-General) McFarland was out of Anbar before the Surge began. Not only that, while a few hundred extra troops were sent into Anbar in early 2007, the vast majority of extra troops were sent into Baghdad. In Baghdad, it does appear that the Surge did help reduce violence (though not in a very sustainable way), but the Anbar Awakening was well underway before the troop surge began.
This is yet one more incident that causes me to be deeply skeptical about McCain’s Iraq campaigning. Given other mistakes of his–mistaking Sunni and Shi’ite, conflating al-Qaeda with the insurgency, falsely accusing Iran of arming al-Qaeda, and other misstatements–I question his interest in learning more actual details about the Iraq conflict. I am just a part-time political pundit who is, frankly, more interested in domestic and science issues than I am in military matters. John McCain should be much more informed about the facts on the ground than I am. At the very least, he should know exactly who the players are.
Our military forces in Anbar are killing and capturing al Qaeda leaders, and they are protecting the local population. Recently, local tribal leaders have begun to show their willingness to take on al Qaeda. And as a result, our commanders believe we have an opportunity to deal a serious blow to the terrorists. So I have given orders to increase American forces in Anbar Province by 4,000 troops.
Now, it may well be that the extra troops helped sustain the Awakening (though I suspect that the
bribes arms and resources we supplied to the Sunni tribes had a bigger effect). However, there’s really not much of a factual basis to say that the Surge caused the Awakening.