Washington Post: the Surge is Working

In an editorial this morning the Washington Post asserts that by any objective standard “the Surge” is working:

A month later, there isn’t much room for such debate, at least about the latest figures. In September, Iraqi civilian deaths were down 52 percent from August and 77 percent from September 2006, according to the Web site icasualties.org. The Iraqi Health Ministry and the Associated Press reported similar results. U.S. soldiers killed in action numbered 43 — down 43 percent from August and 64 percent from May, which had the highest monthly figure so far this year. The American combat death total was the lowest since July 2006 and was one of the five lowest monthly counts since the insurgency in Iraq took off in April 2004.

During the first 12 days of October the death rates of Iraqis and Americans fell still further. So far during the Muslim month of Ramadan, which began Sept. 13 and ends this weekend, 36 U.S. soldiers have been reported as killed in hostile actions. That is remarkable given that the surge has deployed more American troops in more dangerous places and that in the past al-Qaeda has staged major offensives during Ramadan. Last year, at least 97 American troops died in combat during Ramadan. Al-Qaeda tried to step up attacks this year, U.S. commanders say — so far, with stunningly little success.

and at least some of “the Surge’s” critics were wrong:

This doesn’t necessarily mean the war is being won. U.S. military commanders have said that no reduction in violence will be sustainable unless Iraqis reach political solutions — and there has been little progress on that front. Nevertheless, it’s looking more and more as though those in and outside of Congress who last month were assailing Gen. Petraeus’s credibility and insisting that there was no letup in Iraq’s bloodshed were — to put it simply — wrong.

Let me restate my position on the war in Iraq for the umpteenth time: I opposed the invasion for reasons of domestic politics, geopolitics, and practicality that should be apparent if you look around us now. If I’d had my way we wouldn’t have invaded Iraq at all. I don’t think I occupied the moral highground with that position, quite the contrary. Saddam Hussein would have remained in power and would have continued to abuse his own people and further his plans for exerting influence in the region. However, I think that the implications of our withdrawing our forces from Iraq before Iraq is significantly more peaceful and stable than it is now are sufficiently dire with no way of mitigating those consequences once we’ve removed our forces that we need to retain some substantial level of forces there until Iraq is more peaceful and stable than it is now. The first tier Democratic presidential aspirants appear to agree with me.

In my view the national Iraqi government is largely dysfunctional, scarcely a government at all. It’s basically a forum for the militias and the notion that the representatives of the militias will organize the militias’ demise is staggering. I have no idea whether this situation is intrinsic to Iraq or whether when they’re fed up enough Iraqis will put a better government in place. In this light the original stated purpose of “the Surge”, i.e. to create a political space in which the national Iraqi government can negotiate a political solution to the violence in Iraq is certainly questionable, possibly absurd.

But the effect of this level of success in “the Surge” has undoubtedly been to create a political space in which American politicians, both Democratic and Republican, will be able to maintain our forces in Iraq if only because nobody knows what else to do.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    So, the surge is “working,” except that there’s no progress on its stated purpose.

    Hitler thought that the invasion of Russian was working splendidly in 1941 … look at the objective measures! the body counts! the prisoners taken! the miles advanced!

    Unfortunately, short of killing everyone, there’s no such thing as a military solution without a political solution. If the surge’s “success” lies in allowing us to continue postponing a coherent policy on Iraq, then what would “failure” be, exactly?

  2. glasnost says:

    I think that the implications of our withdrawing our forces from Iraq before Iraq is significantly more peaceful and stable than it is now are sufficiently dire

    Like what consequences? Like another nasty third-world war in another third-world country? I think we’ll survive.

    Or is it the dreaded Strike On the Homeland we’re worried about? The two most recent attempts in that direction have come from Pakistan, yet we seem to be able to get by without occupying Pakistan. How come we can make that choice, but not this one?

    “consequences” are conventional wisdom. It’s formulated by people that have a vested interest in staying. No one questions it because it’s intellectually natural. It’s also facile and simplistic. It’s easy to exaggerate consequences to the US.

  3. Andy says:

    Fred Hiatt hasn’t looked at anything “objectively” in his entire life, as far as I can tell.

    But he’s very serious, I’m sure.

  4. anjin-san says:

    Anderson…

    Dude, why do you hate the troops? What kind of American are you??

  5. legion says:

    Sure, I’ll pile on here too. It’s nice that our death rate is going down, but the month-to-month rate (at least as far as measuring the effectiveness of the surge goes) is absolutely meaningless. The only use for the number of US casualties in this matter is to compare the rate now to the rate at this same period in previous years. Anybody got those numbers?

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    Re-read the linked Post editorial, legion. They cite those figures there.

  7. bob in fl says:

    Legion, I was planning to address the issue of casualties now compared to past years. Even by that comparison, they are down. BUT 6 weeks time is not long enough to judge success or failure, especially when temporary cease fires came into effect & the entire strategic focus has changed. Let’s see where the casualty figures stand at the end of the year. Let’s wait & see how Iraqi politics shape up by then. My guess would be an even weaker central govt & stronger local ones. That appears to be the trend at this point, & this was not what the surge was meant to accomplish.

    I think James was right on when he said the surge bought time. We have just begun to reduce our presence there; hopefully both the security & political situations continue improving. Even if the political solution is not of our liking, I would then say we have success whether caused by the surge or not.

  8. Denial’s a bitch sometimes, eh?

  9. Anderson says:

    What kind of American are you??

    Wait, someone called “Anjin-San” is asking me that? 😉

  10. Bob Sile says:

    Anderson, the surges original intent was to secure the Iraqi population which would then lead to political reconciliation. The presumption has always been improving security would then lead to reconcliation. And that at some point in time efforts in each (political & security) would begin to positively reinforce one another.

    Another point is there is political reconciliation, just not where we expected it. Its occurring at tribal and provincial level. We’ve been wrong on so many other items in Iraq, so why are we surprised now that we didn’t forecast this right?

    Legion, if the month-to-month death rates were climbing would you likewise be claiming that trend was meaningless?

  11. spencer says:

    The conclusion about US politics is interesting and well worth considering. Thanks.

  12. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I guess you on the left are not only incorrect about the surge. It seems you are missing some important happenings in Iraq itself. None of you paid any attention to the meeting between a major Shia leader and A Sunni leader in Anbar province. Seems they made a joint statement to the effect that Iraq was not for Sunni or Shia, for Arab, Turkoman, or Kurd, but for all Iraqis. If the spiritual leaders of Iraq become united, can the Government be far behind? Like someone said, denial is a bitch.

  13. legion says:

    Thanks Dave – I hadn’t looked real close because I didn’t expect actual facts on an Op-Ed page; certainly not the WaPo’s 🙂

    Legion, if the month-to-month death rates were climbing would you likewise be claiming that trend was meaningless?

    Frankly, Bob, yes. Those numbers would still tell practically nothing about the effectiveness of the surge (though they might lead to some conclusions about other aspects of the war). But as you note, body counts don’t mean a lot without some objective gains in Iraqi security & stability – even WaPo can see that:

    This doesn’t necessarily mean the war is being won. U.S. military commanders have said that no reduction in violence will be sustainable unless Iraqis reach political solutions — and there has been little progress on that front.

    Hmm. I wonder how much more progress there could’ve been if they hadn’t taken August off…

  14. Anderson says:

    Bob, I’m happy with progress from the bottom up, and I hope you’re right. Time will tell.