Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Massaging the facts

We’re on the cusp of the Surge Report due in September and that means the outright deception from the White House and Pentagon are now bombarding the airways. I thought I’d take this opportunity to state some facts that should be fairly obvious.

1. Casualties are up. I’ve posted about this previously. If the surge was designed to reduce casualties, then it has clearly failed.

2. Watch the press closely. They are talking an awful lot about success in the Al Anbar province which I find strange since it wasn’t the focus of the surge.

I know this point is a bit controversial with the left-o-sphere claiming it wasn’t a part of the surge at all (I think it was) and the right-o-sphere overstating it’s relevance to the surge.* Frankly, it’s hard to find hard numbers on how many additional troops were deployed to Al Anbar. The best estimate I have is 4,000, which is about 13% of the total 30,000.

The point is, however, that the “surge” is mostly irrelevant in Al Anbar. It hasn’t brought more security or aided the political situation. What has worked, and the reason for why violence is decreasing, is the rise of tribal warlords who are expelling foreign fighters (terrorists) and taking control of the territory. I don’t think any author of the “surge” would conclude that this is empirical evidence that adding troops to an insurgency reduces violence. If anything it proves my point that insurgency ends when a population gets tired of killing its own and takes action.

(This is a very risky development by any standard. Just look at the paramilitary problem in Colombia. It started as a way to “improve security” and fight the FARC. It ended with mass graves and political corruption to the top.)

3. There have been few, if any, political successes. This is the root of the struggle and the Congressionally established benchmarks for evaluating the success of the surge are political, not military because political reconciliation is the key to solving conflict. None of the political benchmarks have been achieved.

4. Look who’s writing General Petraeus’s report:

Despite Bush's repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government.

5. Fundamentally, the surge’s exclusive focus on security misses the most important variables (from the same LA Times article):

But the official said he did not believe such security improvements would translate into political progress or improvements in the daily lives of most Iraqis.

"Who cares how many neighborhoods of Baghdad are secured?" the official said. "Let's talk about the rest of the country: How come they have electricity twice a day, how come there is no running water?"

Ultimately, even a cursory reading of insurgency literature leads one to conclude that fighting an insurgency is 5% military and 95% political and economic. I’ve written about this before but I wanted to restate it in light of the onslaught of MEDIA-ocracy.

* I really don’t know what to make of the “Surge didn’t happen in Al Anbar” story. It comes from sources I generally trust but they seem to have just asserted it without independent verification. I have read media reports that give the 4,000 number while other reports say that the surge redeployed troops from Al Anbar to Baghdad. If it’s the case that there are now less troops in Al Anbar than prior to the surge, then this post has distinct relevance. I welcome any evidence available on this issue.

The best that I could find is this: As of November 26, 2006, there were 30,000 troops in Al Anbar. The pentagon talked at the time of rotating troops out of the province to reinforce the efforts in Baghdad. However, in April 2007, the San Diego Union Tribune reported there were 35,000 troops in Al Anbar. That supports the argument that there was a “surge” in the province.



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