From the Department of Denial comes the millionth explanation—or so it seems—of why the surge in Iraq really truly honestly isn’t a success despite the astounding drops in violence over the past year. In this Washington Post oped, liberal activists John Podesta, Ray Takeyh, and Lawrence J. Korb never actually mention the massive reduction in killings. They write:

Yet even despite the loss of nearly 1,000 American lives and the expenditure of $150 billion, the surge has failed in its stated purpose: providing the Iraqi government with the breathing space to pass the 18 legislative benchmarks the Bush administration called vital to political reconciliation. To date it has passed only four. Moreover, as part of the surge, the administration has further undermined Iraq’s government by providing arms and money to Sunni insurgent groups even though they have not pledged loyalty to Baghdad.

Was it really the stated goal of the surge to meet all 18 legislative benchmarks within a year? President Bush has said that the surge was designed to facilitate political progress, and it has—witness the four benchmark pieces of legislation that were recently passed. There has also been a good deal of grassroots political progress that is not measured by the surge. But which supporter of the surge expected overnight implementation of the entire reconciliation agenda? No one, as far as I am aware—not even President Bush. If the authors of the op-ed have evidence to the contrary, I’d love to see it.

Their second statement—that “the administration has further undermined Iraq’s government by providing arms and money to Sunni insurgent groups even though they have not pledged loyalty to Baghdad”—is just as unfounded. For some reason the authors adopt the view of certain hard-line Shi’ite sectarians who claim that the Concerned Local Citizens, as the American military calls neighborhood watch groups, are in fact insurgents disloyal to the government. There is no doubt that some of them are former insurgents. But all of them have sworn their loyalty to the Iraqi state and have submitted biometric data that could be used to track them down should they cross the line.

The very fact that some 80,000 Iraqis, primarily but not exclusively Sunnis, have joined the CLC’s, many after having fought Iraqi and coalition forces, is the best evidence of the real reconciliation happening on the ground. Far from undermining Iraq’s government, the CLC’s are bolstering it by chasing Al Qaeda and other terrorists out of their neighborhoods. Al Qaeda’s decline, in turn, has led to a fall in the fortunes of the Jaish al Mahdi, Moqtada al Sadr’s militia which had long postured as the defender of Shi’ites against Sunni predations.

The rest of the op-ed is simply an exercise in wishful thinking. The authors, who routinely berate the Bush administration for not having considered what could go wrong after the invasion of Iraq, pollyannishly dismiss any suggestions of what could go wrong after an American withdrawal. “The prevailing doomsday scenario suggests that an American departure would lead to genocide and mayhem,” they write. “But is that true? Iraq today belongs to Iraqis; it is an ancient civilization with its own norms and tendencies. It is entirely possible that in the absence of a cumbersome and clumsy American occupation, Iraqis will make their own bargains and compacts, heading off the genocide that many seem to anticipate.”

Sure it’s possible. But is it likely? Not if you look at recent history: in 2006 American troops withdrew from the streets of Iraq, consolidating in massive bases. The result wasn’t Iraqis making “their own bargains and compacts.” It was runaway violence, with the whole country perched on the brink of civil war. Only the surge—which involved a change of tactics as well as more troops—pulled Iraq back from the brink.

Apparently these Democratic stalwarts would be willing to have Iraq totally collapse as the price of bringing our troops home. But if that’s the case, they should at least be honest about what they’re advocating without trying to wish away the surge’s success or the likely consequences of American pullout. That’s precisely the sort of wishful thinking that caused us in severe problems in Iraq in the first place.

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