McCain: Effects Precede Causes in Iraq

John McCain photoHere’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.

UPDATE: Writing on this topic for Slate, Christopher Beam points out that the Anbar Awakening was actualy used by President Bush in his 2007 State of the Union address to justify the Surge:

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.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Iraq War, , , , , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Michael says:

    (though not in a very sustainable way)

    That bit was completely unrelated to your topic, and lacked supporting evidence in your article. It would have been better to leave it for a separate post on that issue specifically.

  2. mannning says:

    It comes down to a question of intent, doesn’t it? McCain has the right ideas on Iraq and the right intent to carry them out. Whereas, Obama is lost in left field with his intent to effect an early pullout–end the war scheme that would be a disaster if carried out.

  3. Bithead says:

    Since you seem to be dancing on a calander, Alex, let me draw you a bit of a picture, by way of an interesting little parallel…Let me take you back a mere few days…

    Bush steps up before the mikes yesterday and says we gotta drill… open up offshore fields… and chides congress about opening up ANWR, and what happens? Price drops $9/bbl almost at once. That’s the biggest drop in the price of oil since 1991.

    So, tell me again, oil haters, how our committing to drilling for our own oil, and freeing up domestic production, including ANWR, won’t have an immediate effect on the price of oil… even before such fields come online.

    Here we have the mere spectre of a commitment by the US to drilling our own oil, and the price falls like it hasn’t in nearly 20 years

    Clearly, we affected the sutuation before the policy Bush mentions is put in place.

    So to attach that to the subject at hand…tell me, when did we decide on the surge strategy? Late 2006, wasn’t it? Since Bush made the pronouncements on the matter in his SOTU address in 2007, and it was panned as nothing new at the time, clearly the idea that the US was going to go with the surge was out there prior to that time. Even Wikipedia notes that the planning stages of the thing went back to 2006. Do you consider that the Iranians and the Sheiks are not whatching our domestic politics closely enough to react to such situations as they appear on the horizon?

  4. Hal says:

    It comes down to a question of intent

    Actually, if you’re running a campaign based on the the issue of competence, the answer is no. It’s not enough to have good intentions. What you’re saying is that “we know what he meant”, which is perhaps your interpretation, but since McCain hasn’t actually – you know – clarified his interpretation and has canceled the event where the press are dying to ask him for clarification, it’s still quite up in the air as to what he actually meant and whether he has good intentions or not.

    Whereas, Obama is lost in left field with his intent to effect an early pullout

    Oddly, the leader of the sovereign country we’re occupying doesn’t agree. That’s a rather imperialistic attitude to take.

  5. Hal says:

    Clearly, we affected the sutuation before the policy Bush mentions is put in place.

    Ah, the quantum entanglement theory of military insurgency tactics.

    Good one Dr. B. Can’t wait to see how deep down the rabbit hole you’ll take this.

  6. steve says:

    This has been hashed out ad infinitum on the milblogs. AQ wore out its welcome and the Awakening started before the Surge (a term I hate as it was more the institution of COIN than the absolute numbers). The military gets the credit for recognizing what was going on and responding so well, including the out-of-the-box idea of paying the SOI. Clearly Sadr deciding to not pursue fighting has been a huge factor in our success.

    There are those in the military, such as Col. Gentile, who think that the surge had little to do with our success. Strong COIN advocates will give much more credit to our activities. It is a valid debate.

    The question remains on what we should do going forward. Successful COIN, IMO, requires a stable legitimate government to support. Is that achievable? Will Maliki find it too easy to use our forces as his private praetorian guard? Do Iraqis thik their government is legitimate?

    Steve

  7. Bithead says:

    It comes down to a question of intent, doesn’t it?

    Yes, it does…and in more than just this. Once we made a commitment to the surge, our enmy reacted accodingly… withdrawing from the field before we even got there, in large part.

  8. Michael says:

    Bush steps up before the mikes yesterday and says we gotta drill… open up offshore fields… and chides congress about opening up ANWR, and what happens? Price drops $9/bbl almost at once. That’s the biggest drop in the price of oil since 1991.

    In 1991, oil prices dropped $10.56, or about 33%. In 2008 it dropped by $6.44, or about 4.4%.

    So to attach that to the subject at hand…tell me, when did we decide on the surge strategy? Late 2006, wasn’t it? Since Bush made the pronouncements on the matter in his SOTU address in 2007, and it was panned as nothing new at the time, clearly the idea that the US was going to go with the surge was out there prior to that time. Even Wikipedia notes that the planning stages of the thing went back to 2006. Do you consider that the Iranians and the Sheiks are not whatching our domestic politics closely enough to react to such situations as they appear on the horizon?

    That still doesn’t mesh with the belief that having extra troops on the ground made it possible. You can argue that the idea of having extra troops on the ground at a future date made it more feasible and/or attractive if you want, but that’s about as far as you can take it.

  9. Hal says:

    The question remains on what we should do going forward.

    Indeed. According to Dems, it’s start a phase draw down. This puts pressure on Iraqis to continue to solve their own problems, would strengthen the anti-AQ movement, would vastly relieve resentment of everyday Iraqis in having their country occupied which would have great synergistic effects on all the previous points.

    The right seems to believe that we’re going to stay until some as yet undefined victory occurs, continue to expand our role as occupiers, and build permanent bases so that we can use Iraq to strike Iran and continue our war against militant Islam.

    Have I missed/distorted anything?

  10. Hal says:

    Once we made a commitment to the surge

    I knew the green lantern theory of international relations required quantum entanglement to work. Thanks for clarifying that.

  11. spencer says:

    At the same time that Bush was making his announcement about drilling for oil the EIA was releasing data on oil inventories that showed oil inventories to be massively higher than expected.

    This is what the markets were reacting to, not Bush.

  12. anjin-san says:

    That McCain is confused about what is happening in Iraq is hardly news. Perhaps Lieberman needs to be permanently stationed at his side to whisper corrections in his ear.

    That McCain is running on competence has to be pretty alarming to the GOP at this point…

  13. Bithead says:

    At the same time that Bush was making his announcement about drilling for oil the EIA was releasing data on oil inventories that showed oil inventories to be massively higher than expected.

    True enough. Yet you seem to neglect the idea that as of when this rocket ride started, months gone by now, we had on the order of 15% more crude and distilates on hand than we’d had in years..(I wrote it before but I can’t recall the exact figures I wrte at the time)

    The idea that we had lots on hand was hardly fresh when that report came out and the speculation crowd knew that going in. The only new item in that mix was Bush’s commitment to drill, and the off chance that the Dmeocrats would follow through on it.

    In 1991, oil prices dropped $10.56, or about 33%. In 2008 it dropped by $6.44, or about 4.4%.

    Depends how you average it, Mike. In terms of one day drops, the recent one was the biggest in 20 years, as I recall the reports. Funny how that shows up the moment the markets open after Bush’s call.

  14. Wayne says:

    It cracks me up when people treat events as single points in time. The “Anbar awakening” happened in September 2006. Yes and no. Yes that is when it hit the tipping point. However the lead up and follow through took up a great deal more in time. The same thing can be said about the surge. The surge concept and testing occurred before 2007.
    http://usacac.leavenworth.army.mil/CAC/milreview/English/MarApr08/Smith_AnbarEngMarApr08.pdf

    The “Ready First Combat Team” showed how an surge style campaign could succeed. To do it on a larger scale, it would have a much better chance of success with more combat troops in the area.

    The prep work for the surge started long before the additional troops landed in theater. The “Anbar awakening” which was initiated by the U.S. military had a very good chance of failing without the follow on additional help by the U.S.

  15. Michael says:

    Depends how you average it, Mike. In terms of one day drops, the recent one was the biggest in 20 years, as I recall the reports.

    As I pointed out, it was not as big of a per-price drop as in 1991. A per-day drop doesn’t give you a comparison of anything when the price has quadrupled.

  16. mannning says:

    Seems to me that the key question will always be: how will Iraq fare after we reduce our forces significantly? From Obama we get a pullout in 16 months, with no nuanced conditionals; from McCain we get conditionals on the situation, the status of Iraqi forces, and stability overall, before any massive withdrawal takes place.

    Isn’t the latter what we have spent our treasure in lives and fortune to achieve? Mailki’s words seem to have been far more nuanced than was reported through Obama-tanked media. The idea of agrement on withdrawal was scotched thoroughly.

    Before the fact of becoming President, any candidate can only have intent to act on matters, unless you give Obama full authority now, which is just a bit over the line constitutionally, don’t you think, Hal?

    I read McCain’s position paper in the NYP, and find it quite compelling, particularly when compared to the vacillating positions, yesterday’s and today’s, and probably tomorrows, of his inept and actually inarticulate opponent without a teleprompter. 8 minutes of Um Ah, hmmm, well, it may.., let me be…,,ah, hum sounds out of his 45-minute press conference, made Obama out to be what he is: a puppet on a string.

  17. Hal says:

    It cracks me up when people treat events as single points in time.

    We have now added String Theory to the mix. Maybe the surge is really modeled as a D-Brane on the manifold defined by conquest against militaristic Islam. All the details surrounding the actualities are like excess dimensions that have curled upon themselves and vanished from sight.

  18. Hal says:

    any candidate can only have intent to act on matters

    Sure. But those intents have to actually be spelled out. What you were positing was that we ignore what McCain actually said and divine his intent. Requiring some scroll and secret decoder ring, no doubt.

  19. Michael says:

    To put things into a bit of perspective, on Jun 6th 2008, the cost of oil rose $10.75, more than it dropped a little more than a month later.

  20. Michael says:

    More than it dropped in 1991 too, for that matter.

  21. Bithead says:

    As I pointed out, it was not as big of a per-price drop as in 1991. A per-day drop doesn’t give you a comparison of anything when the price has quadrupled

    THe direction the prices moved in is the key, Mike.

  22. Michael says:

    THe direction the prices moved in is the key, Mike.

    It’s important to the outcome, but not the mechanism. A 5% price shift in a day may not be common, but it’s not earth shattering either. A 33% drop is headline news, a 5% drop is not.

    More perspective, an equivalent drop in gasoline price today saves you $0.16/gallon*, while an equivalent drop in gasoline price in 1991 would have saved you $0.40/gallon*. That would result in a per-gallon cost of $3.85 today and $0.80 in 1991.

    (*) I’m using $4.00/gal price for today, and $1.20/gal price in 1991.

  23. anjin-san says:

    Getting back to Vietnam for a moment, this comes to us from the noted far-left, moonbat defeatists at the US Army War College. So much for “we were 2 weeks from victory”

    http://www.carlisle.army.mil/usawc/parameters/96winter/record.htm

    Norman Podhoretz, who believes that American intervention in the Vietnam War was “an attempt born of noble ideals and impulses,” has concluded that “the only way the United States could have avoided defeat in Vietnam was by staying out of the war altogether.”[50] His judgment, in retrospect, appears to be as reasonable as any. The United States intervened in the Vietnam War on behalf of a weak and incompetent ally, and it pursued a conventional military victory against a wily, elusive, and extraordinarily determined opponent who shifted to ultimately decisive conventional military operations only after inevitable American political exhaustion undermined potentially decisive US military responses. Even had the United States attained a conclusive military decision, its cost would have exceeded any possible benefit. Vietnam was then, and remains today, a strategic backwater, and the US decision to fight there in the 1960s was driven by a doctrine of containing communism that in the 1950s was witlessly militarized and indiscriminately extended to all of Asia. Bernard Brodie observed in the early 1970s that “it is now clear what we mean by calling the United States intervention in Vietnam a failure. . . . We mean that at least as early as the beginning of 1968 even the most favorable outcome . . . could not remotely be worth the price we would have paid for it.”[51]

    The key to US defeat was a profound underestimation of enemy tenacity and fighting power, an underestimation born of a happy ignorance of Vietnamese history, a failure to appreciate the fundamental civil dimensions of the war, and a preoccupation with the measurable indices of military power and attendant disdain for the ultimately decisive intangibles. In 1965, Maxwell Taylor confessed that “the ability of the Viet Cong continuously to rebuild their units and make good their losses is one of the mysteries of this guerrilla war. We still find no plausible explanation of the continued strength of the Viet Cong.”[52] Four years later, Vo Nguyen Giap commented that the “United States has a strategy based on arithmetic. They question the computers, add and subtract, extract square roots, and then go into action. But arithmetical strategy doesn’t work here. If it did, they’d have already exterminated us.”[53]

    The United States could not have prevented the forcible reunification of Vietnam under communist auspices at a morally, materially, and strategically acceptable price.

  24. bains says:

    Right along with the intent of PresidentBarryForLife.GOD, but better articulated. Much better obfuscation than Sully could ever hope to do.

  25. Bithead says:

    5% drop is not.

    When the trend has been up, up, up for around a year straight? Come on, Mike.\

    Bains… (Chuckle)

  26. Michael says:

    When the trend has been up, up, up for around a year straight? Come on, Mike.\

    Your emphasis seemed to be on the amount of the drop, not that it was a drop. Are you claiming that this was the first single day drop in oil price since 1991?

  27. mannning says:

    Apparently Hal hasn’t read McCain’s paper on Iraq, so he plays with words to try to bolster his showing. Then we have the old tactic of demanding more and more details…yawn! Followed by the tired decoder ring ploy. Not too bright, this man, though he’d like to be thought of as something of a Reanaissance Man by throwing terms around that he probably culled out of a popular book on modern physics. Let me know when he gets around to explaining superstring theory to us.

    McCain has articulated a clear policy on Iraq that he would follow if elected. It is simply the right path in my opinion, and it is all he should say at this point.

    Obama, on the other hand can only prattle about withdrawal in 16 months, and be damned with the consequences. That is the sign of raw ignorance on his part, and terrible judgement on the part of both Obama and his string-pullers: Alldull, ZB, et al (and no, I won’t try to spell ZBs name).

    It appears that Obama went to Iraq with this position, and came away with it intact, which is about what was expected. Parachuting in for a few hours does not make for real understanding, even if he really wanted to understand Iraq, which he obviously doesn’t.

  28. Hal says:

    Let me know when he gets around to explaining superstring theory to us.

    Dude, the whole point is that super string theory isn’t even wrong – it’s a onanistic theory which isn’t falsafiable and takes more math specialization than an entire gaggle of grad students, in aggregate, can muster.

    Now, perhaps you can see the analogy between this and McCain’s pony plan and pixie dust surge. Then again, you probably don’t know your Popper, so this is all lost on you anyway.

    something of a Reanaissance[sic] Man

    Whatever.

    McCain’s paper on Iraq

    Got a link? I’d be glad to. Or are you referring to his rejected OpEd? You know, the one rejected because it didn’t say anything coherent about what he would actually do, rather just that his opponent Obama was wrong, wrong, wrong.

    and be damned with the consequences.

    Really? Can you find that quote for me? Oh, I forgot about asking for links from you and Dr. B… Sorry ’bout that.

    Parachuting in for a few hours does not make for real understanding, even if he really wanted to understand Iraq, which he obviously doesn’t.

    Hmmm… Except for the assertion that I haven’t read McCain’s paper on Iraq – which is absolutely correct, I might add – I really can’t find anything more than a bunch of other assertions, conjectures and strawmans in your comment. Perhaps I’m missing the actual substance? Or were you just airing out your closet?

  29. Bithead says:

    Your emphasis seemed to be on the amount of the drop, not that it was a drop. Are you claiming that this was the first single day drop in oil price since 1991?

    That was the report I picked up at the time, yes. That aside, there doesn’t seem a bunch of question that what we had was a large moment against the trend… IE; strongly down, instead of going with the year long up trend.

    You can quibble about it being a record day or not, that’s not really the point. THe point is a cl;ear case of cause and effect.

  30. Bithead says:

    Dude, the whole point is that super string theory isn’t even wrong – it’s a onanistic theory which isn’t falsafiable and takes more math specialization than an entire gaggle of grad students, in aggregate, can muster

    Interesting. So are your arguments in here of late, so perhaps Manning caught himself an interesting parallel.

  31. Hal says:

    I’ll just take it from your response, Dr. B, that you literally have nothing to say and are merely reduced to the humiliating rendition of common third ground playground tactics simply because you can’t think of your own come backs; all you have is “I know you are, but what am I – infinity!”

  32. peterh says:

    “THe point is a cl;ear case of cause and effect”

    What? That the chimp’s scrapping of the drilling ban caused the market to drop? Pffftttt…..anyone who trades the market sent that to the circle file on release….it was meaningless….congress hasn’t scrapped their ban yet…and even if they do, it’s still up to the states….California says pfffttt….if Charlie still wants a job in Florida, he needs to change his tune….Jeb knew that…..the chimp’s exercise was nothing more than a photo-op for the ignorant, i.e., bit-at-the-hook….

    But….beyond those little sticky facts….what may or could happen in, say, 10 years, has zero effect on the factors in play today.

    Now, for those still wanting to give the chimp some credit for the drop….well, I’ll serve it on a silver plater….it”s called “foreign policy reversal”…..for the little bits that still don’t get it….the term we use is “deflating the war premium” by talking to an adversary….

    BTW….demand destruction has also been a contributing factor to the recent slide in futures prices, but the comments on inventories here were amateur………….at best….

  33. mannning says:

    Well, I am waiting for your explanation of superstring theory, O Onanistic One. So far you have just blown smoke with your complaints that you seem not to be able to understand the math. But, a Renaissance Man should be able to come up with an intelligent explanation without having to dig deep in the math. Brian Greene has done it, along with several others. Go for it!

    Watch this space for a real duck and run exercise from RM Hal!

    You got one thing right, Sir Karl Popper is not on my list of favorite social thinkers, although his epistemological contributions were substantial.

    Why don’t you Google the NY Post archives for McCain’s Iraq article that the failing NYT had the gall to refuse on highly specious grounds. Now all can see why the Times is going down: far too biased to the left to read.

    Let me see, who is it that is running on the idea of change? What an insulting idea, if you cannot clearly state the vector of change you are prescribing–perhaps because it itself is changing, yea morphing, before our very eyes.

    I see that Hal is yet another that goes in for “links please”, probably as a pure diversion from the discussion. Of what possible use is it to engage in a Links Battle, particularly when the root of the argument at hand lies in a belief system, not in quotes or long-winded references from people one can sneeringly discount rather readily–whether rightly or wrongly? Authorities have a way of being right some of the time, and dead wrong at other times. Popper, for example, fits that bill…perfectly. So would a thousand monkeys at typewriters for a few years.

  34. Hal says:

    Watch this space for a real duck and run exercise from RM Hal!

    Dude, wtf? I mean, really. You’re literally calling me out, demanding an explanation from me regarding string theory? Wow. Advantage Mannning!

    Now all can see why the Times is going down: far too biased to the left to read.

    Ah, so it was the failed NYT OpEd to which you were referring (although, my god, the sh*t I have to plow through to discern such a simple fact is truly mind boggling). Okay, then. It’s pretty clear that you’re a blithering idiot because no where in that pile of stinky prose that McCain squeezed out over a rather disapointing encounter with his favorite curry is any semblance of a clear policy on Iraq. Like I previously said, it’s merely a litany of how Obama is wrong, wrong, wrong. Scant substance on what McCain’s policy is on Iraq other than VICTORY!

    Geebus, you really haven’t learned much since the last time you were spanked.

    probably as a pure diversion from the discussion.

    My god, do you actually have *any* reading comprehension skills at all? Stopping the meds was a *bad* idea.

    Popper, for example, fits that bill…perfectly

    WTF? I mean, really. W. T. F.?

    Okay, I’m simply arguing with a early 20th century Liza program, probably running on some steampunk nightmare contraption based on a lost Ada Lovelace design discovered in an antique auction.

    Sadly, you do not pass the Turing test.

  35. peterh says:

    “the root of the argument at hand lies in a belief system”

    What? I’m fired because I chose to believe [insert whatever] rather than doing my homework…..

    YO….Darwin….ya missed one here….

  36. bains says:

    What? That the chimp’s…

    What an intelligent and earnest way to start off.

    Of course Bush’s revocation of the federal ban affected the market, as has several other recent developments. Spouting off Dem talking points will not change the likelihood that when folks such as Ken Salazar are up for re-election in two years, their rhetoric of today will have been thrown under the bus (seems a commonality for the left these days). There is only so long that you can blame someone else for your own failings – sooner or later, you have to actually do something to justify your elected office. Oil shale extraction and off-shore drilling will quietly be ushered in once they are no longer a convenient bludgeon for the left and the press to bash the ‘chimp’ with.

  37. peterh says:

    “Spouting off Dem talking points”

    Oh please…cite for me one item I’ve listed that is a Dem talking point (other than time span, which happens to be true) yahoo, we can deliver oil on a cost plus in 10 years, but….we don’t know what that cost plus is….but we do know it will be at market…..whatever market is in 10 years….ka ching…..

    BTW….I’m not a Dem….but…I did stay at Holiday Inn and was happy to pay the going rate (ref: Capitalist)

  38. anjin-san says:

    Of course Bush’s revocation of the federal ban affected the market,

    The “Federal Ban”… in other words, the Bush ban

  39. Bithead says:

    I’ll just take it from your response, Dr. B, that you literally have nothing to say and are merely reduced to the humiliating rendition of common third ground playground tactics simply because you can’t think of your own come backs

    Nah. Simply bringing it to a level you’ll be sure to understand. You clearly understand so little of the discourse around here. I’m such a nice guy, ain’t I?

  40. Michael says:

    Dude, wtf? I mean, really. You’re literally calling me out, demanding an explanation from me regarding string theory? Wow. Advantage Mannning!

    If you could produce a unifying quantum theory of gravity, that would be helpful too. Surely that’s not too much to ask for on a political blog.

  41. Alex Knapp says:

    I’m shutting down the comments on this one, guys. The thread has gone way off topic and the tone is getting increasingly uncivil.