a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

“Surge” to nowhere

Posted by Thomas Nephew on September 9th, 2008

The Washington Post has been running its customary serial excerpts of Bob Woodward’s latest book — this time, “The War Within,” an account of the Bush administration decision to send more troops into Iraq, despite the sweeping Bush/GOP defeat in the 2006 election.   Yesterday, Woodward used the title of a backgrounder to that series first to ask a good question, and then threaten (but fail) to provide a good answer: “Why Did Violence Plummet? It Wasn’t Just the Surge.”

Woodward identifies three other factors: “a series of top-secret operations that enabled them to locate, target and kill key individuals in groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgency and renegade Shia militias”; the better known “Anbar Awakening”, in which that province’s Sunni tribal leaders turned to all-out war against al Qaeda in Iraq; and Moqtada al-Sadr’s August 29(!), 2007 order to the Mahdi Army to suspend operations – “an unexpected stroke of good luck.”

And that’s it.

Ethnic cleansing runs its course in BaghdadLost in this accounting — no doubt personally dictated to him by Jack Keane or Dick Cheney — is the likeliest factor of all: that ethnic cleansing had run its course to such an extent by mid 2007 or so that the true object of most of the fighting — large, defensible, and homogeneous ethnic enclaves — had already been attained.

Why do I suspect this?  As I wrote last September (“Progress is just another word for nothing left to kill“), the conclusion comes from simply looking at a series of ethnic maps of Baghdad (provided during September 2007 congressional testimony by General James Jones) spanning the July 2006-July 2007 time period.*

Perhaps more interestingly, why would Woodward not suspect this?  He’d only need to have consulted his own newspaper last December, when Karen DeYoung’s article “Balkanized Homecoming” ran with an exceptional pair of ethnic maps of Baghdad (“Changing Baghdad“) showing just how hollow the surge’s “success” was.  DeYoung:

For many Iraqis, the homes they left no longer exist. Houses have been looted, destroyed or occupied. Most Baghdad neighborhoods, where Shiites and Sunnis once lived side by side, have been transformed into religiously homogeneous bastions where members of the other sect dare not tread.

And that remains the case.  Even DeYoung’s title is somewhat misleading; for millions of Iraqis, “homecoming” — even a “balkanized” one — remains a hopeless dream.  A UN report in late 2007 estimated that there were well over 4 million Iraqi refugees, about evenly divided between those “internally displaced” within Iraq and those who had decamped elsewhere, primarily Syria and Jordan.  (It is yet another pitiful abdication of responsibility by the U.S. that there were less than 20,000 refugees to this country at that time.)  So hold the medals ceremonies: the sheer size and apparent permanence of this exodus shows the Bush administration strategy in Iraq still hasn’t turned the corner to success.

Nor is it likely to — and reports today that “Iraq Troop Levels to Remain Steady Until After Bush Leaves Office” (Dan Eggen, Washington Post) aren’t the half of it.

In June, DeYoung reported a GAO report indicated “The administration lacks an updated and comprehensive Iraq strategy to move beyond the “surge” of combat troops President Bush launched” with his “New Way Forward” in January 2007. A similar July 2008 GAO report (“Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq: Progress Report: Some Gains Made, Updated Strategy Needed”) echoes that finding, and adds another (emphasis added):

We found that the documents for the phase that follows The New Way Forward do not specify the administration’s strategic goals and objectives in Iraq or how it intends to achieve them, although they clearly state the importance the administration places on continued U.S. involvement in and support for Iraq.

It’s just like backchannel maestro General Jack Keane told Petraeus in March of this year, according to Woodward: “We’re going to be here for 50 years minimum, most of the time hopefully preventing wars, and on occasion having to fight one, dealing with radical Islam, our economic interests in the region and trying to achieve stability.”

Fifty years? What the heck, make it a hundred.

* Lest one think only bloggers like me or (Middle East expert) Juan Cole think this is the likely explanation, the GAO’s Joe Christoff said the same in Congressional testimony in in October 2007.

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