Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Surge is Working?

John McCain has been out and about on the campaign trail extolling the Surge. It is well past time to look at the claim of how the Surge is a “success.”

First off what is the Surge and what are its goals? The military part was rather simple; the Surge is essentially a rebranded troop escalation. 21,000 more service members were added into Iraq. This was done by extending the deployments of service members already in Iraq, deploying more Marines to the area and by changing National Guard rotation policies. The end results were more boots on the ground in Iraq.

Tactically it worked- more physical presence did help with security. The extra boots on the ground were very helpful in hunting down foreign insurgents. However the big change on the ground was the attitude of the Sunni leaders. The Al Qaeda wanna-bes in Iraq had worn out their welcome. Tribal leaders in Iraq were tiered of the murder, mayhem, and brutality of their guests. The Jhadies were killing far too few “crusaders” and far too many Iraqis. Enter the Americans with the “awakening councils.” The American Military came in with respect, money, and arms. Tribal leaders lent a sympathetic ear. But the real tipping point came with the political murders of a few Sunni leaders. The killing of the Sheiks by the foreign Jhadies decided the matter for the local tribal leaders. The leaders came to the conclusion that the Jhadies were more trouble than they were worth.

Thus was the back of “Al Qaeda in Iraq” broken. The Sunnis cooperated with the Americans because they shared a goal with them—ejecting one set of foreign fighters. Still what cooperation the Sunnis gave and give the US occupation rests mainly on the money and arms the US military provides. The Sunnis find the arms and training provided by the US useful for the present. Unfortunately for long term U.S. goals, the tribal leaders have no compelling interest in supporting either the central Shia government or in even staying peaceful with other Sunni tribes. At best the U.S. has purchased a temporary respite in the tribal and sectarian conflict.

The other thing that has brought about a respite in the civil conflict has been ethnic cleansing. Shia and Sunnis no longer live together. The surge has done nothing for either the two million internally displaced Iraqis or for the two million external refugees. It has been a brutal rearrangement of the map. Baghdad has now become a Shia city. The south of Iraq is now exclusively Shia also. Other areas of Iraq have become exclusively Sunni. Sectarian murder and mayhem has gone down because the aims of the sectarians have been largely accomplished.

The only area still undetermined is around Mosul. Will the Kurds manage a land grab of the city and the surrounding oil fields or will the Arabs and Turkmens be able to join together and prevent getting cleansed by the Kurds? The other players in the North are Iran, our bĂȘte noire in the area, and Turkey our great friend and NATO ally –who are working together to the disadvantage of our other ally the Kurds. It is a situation that would try the patience and skill of the brightest of diplomatic minds. Unfortunately the Republicans are extremely short of any kind of diplomatic minds at all. They are chock-a-block full of NeoCons who have an inordinate fondness for military solutions and hatred for reasoned diplomatic discourse.

Seeing as McCain still can not figure out the difference between Sunnis and Shia, it is not likely that he has any answer of how to handle the Kurds. Not to blame him too much for this; there was nary a peep out of any of our so called leaders about the Kurds. The administration has turned a blind eye to Turkish incursions into Kurdish territories. Turkey has bombed Kurdish areas in Iraq and has sent in troops into those areas also. So much for the sovereign territory of the nation of Iraq; both Turkey and Iran have been allowed to ignore it.

Enough about the Gordian knot of the Kurds, back to the Surge. Let us remember why the surge was proposed in the first place. The Surge was supposed to help bring about political unity by providing a breathing space. Calm would be imposed and then political healing would begin. As we have seen calm came mainly by either purchasing it via the awakening councils or by ethnic cleansing. The underlying divides of Iraq: religious, tribal, and ethnic were not addressed. The so called government of Iraq has been a rump leadership of Shia sectarians backed by the mullahs in Iran. The Sunnis have boycotted the legislative process. Even the Shias are not united. There is a power struggle between the Sadristes and Badristes in the government for supremacy. The unity of the Shia central government (pretty much an oxymoron at the moment) is also being challenged by the break-away Kurds and the “awakened” Sunni militias. The battles in the parliament are being reflected on the streets with frequent militia clashes.

Much of the happy talk about Iraq ignores the central fact of continued political fragmentation. True, several material factors are up; power, trade, short-term security. But it all depends on what your baseline is. If the baseline is 2007-the height of the surge and the ethnic cleansing then things have improved. It is very much an issue of not being able to fall off the floor. If your baseline was pre-invasion Iraq then things are still much worse. The promised benefits of George W. Bush’s war have failed to materialize.

Iraq is culturally, physically, and governmentally in much worse shape now than it was five years ago. No one in Iraq is ready to make nice with anyone. Politics remains a zero sum game among all the factions. Most days the Iraqi parliament can not even muster a quorum. Power has devolved down to the local tribal level. Law has regressed to the old tribal notions too. Honor killings and vendetta have become the norm. Central authority has evaporated and with it any notion of modernity. The Iraq brain drain continues apace. Anyone with the means or the skill has left Iraq. While there maybe improvement here and there, we have seen these up-ticks before. McCain has ballyhooed these "improvements" before; the corporate media has talked up the "good news" before. Both have been wrong; both have indulged themselves in wishful thinking. Unfortunately the modern, secular, tolerant if autocratic state Iraq has been replaced by a shattered, retrograde, religious fundamentalist polity.

With Iraq a shattered tribal shell what exactly does “victory” look like? McCain keeps claiming that we are “winning” in Iraq. But he has been saying that ever since we first invaded. His short, quick war has morphed into something a little longer and more expensive than what he first promised. But still “Victory” is only a Friedman Unit away. What is the definition of victory? John McCain has been a little vague on that item. Still we will definitely have it no later than 2013. Then again maybe not, there will be setbacks according to McCain. You know setbacks, like the Iraqi government and people rejection the idea of 50 permanent bases in their country. Setbacks, like the possibility of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani coming out and declaring an open fatwa against the occupying forces. Sistani is already half-way there by declaring private fatwas against the occupation. There is also the possibility that when Sistani finally joins Allah that his replacement might have a much harder line on US force presence.

The Kurdish north is another possible “setback” to McCain. A massive invasion of the Iraqi north by the Turks is not beyond the realm of possibility. The Turkish people are at the breaking point with the PKK guerrillas. One more PKK strike may force the Turkish government to invade and occupy northern Iraq. The PKK strikes against the Turkish army had become a matter of national rage among the Turkish people. How do we prevent Turkey from finding common cause with Iran against the Kurd? Senator McCain, exactly what does victory look like when thousands of Turkish troops are bringing death and destruction to innocent Kurdish civilians on our watch? Neither the Turks nor the Kurds are going to be the least bit interested in helping in the Global war on terror that much is for sure.

Even if the Kurds find a way to play well with others there are still the awakened Sunnis. They are the enemies of our enemies, they are not our friends. When the insurgency first started they were fighting against the occupation. Just a few short months ago they were killing and maiming coalition servicemembers by any means available. They stopped because we offered them money, training and a way to eject the foreign Jhadies. They will not stand for a long-term foreign presence on their land. They tolerate us because we arm them, we train them, and we pay them. They can go back to fighting each other, the Shia or the U.S. at anytime. It is not a question of if they will double cross the U.S. but when.

Never mind all that, McCain says the “surge is working” He has “seen the progress on the ground” The indications of progress are there for everyone to see. Its progress when McCain can no longer revisit the Shorja market even with his retinue of 100 servicemembers and five helicopters. Interesting measurement of progress that McCain wants to show to Barack Obama. “Yes Barack, things are going so great in Iraq that you can not leave the Forward Operating Base under any circumstances!”

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