Spinning the Surge

Frederick Kagan, the brainchild behind the surge and his brother Robert, couldn’t be happier with the success of the surge in Iraq. Robert’s op-ed gives glowing appraisal of his brothers creation, and needless to say, the usual suspects on the right have been quick to jump on board by citing a news article of questionable motives. What is truly bizarre, is that Robert Kagan has been 100% wrong about this war since it began, yet his opinions are still regarded as credible.

The mainstream media in the US have also been quick to rejoice in the 37% reduction in deaths in February, but closer examination suggests there’s little cause for celebration.

According to a Congressional Pentagon progress report, the last three months of 2006 produced the highest level of violence since 2003.

So the February 37% reduction was based on this record high number, and in fact, still represents a death toll higher than the average since 2003. The February US death toll in Iraq for 2007 are higher than 2006, which was higher than 2005, which was in turn higher than 2004. Furthermore, as this article explains, the violence in Iraq has not only always been cyclical, but that a drop in the months of January through March was predicted:

But the most damning fact about the “surge is working” narrative is that the violence in Iraq always has been cyclical, with dips in violence occurring every year in the months from January through March or April. So, in fact, the decline in violence Kagan observes was entirely predictable, and indeed was predicted. The Pentagon’s own “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq” report pointed out that by the end of 2006, the violence in Iraq had reached its highest level since the war began, and so the downtick should be viewed in that context. But what appears likely to happen is what has happened since the beginning of the war: these temporary downticks do not stop the overall upward trend of violence in Iraq. See page 20 of the most recent “Iraq Index” from the Brookings Institution for glaringly obvious proof of this ratcheting up of violence in the country.

The president and supporters of the war protest that we should “give the surge a chance to succeed” before criticizing it. But since the plan in place defies, for one, the joint Army-Marine Corps counterinsurgency manual authored by General Petraeus himself, this is akin to wishful thinking. (By the metric of Petraeus and countless others, to run a serious counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq, we would need 500,000 troops; if we could somehow sequester Baghdad and only fight there, we would need roughly 120,000 troops.)

What is also worth noting is that both Kagan and Patreaus believe that 120,000 troops would be needed to exercise the purge, and in spite of only having 21,000 troops to work with, are adamant that success is inevitable, though Patreaus has maintained some contact with reality.

Kagan however is soaking up this moment, and venturing ever further into the Twilight Zone of ideology. Listen to him here as he explains how SCIRI leader, Al Hakim and Al-Sadr and his Madhi Army are hanging up their gloves, the Sunnis in Anbar are chomping at the bit to become second class citizens, and that the only real problem in Iraq is Al Qaeda.

Wayne White (Director Deputy Director of the State Department’s Beareu of Intelligence and Research Office of Analysis for the Near East and South Asia and Adjunct Scholar at the Middle East Institute) has a much more sober take. The occupation forces can either leave now (with the inevitable short term consequences for Iraq), or remain, lose more American lives, more treasure and leave later, with the same consequences.