Thus, the myth grew that Bush's "surge" had brought Iraqi violence under control and the United States to the brink of "victory." Gen. David Petraeus, who took command of Iraq after Bush yanked Casey and Abizaid, was elevated into hero status as a military genius. Also, Defense Secretary Robert Gates received the encomium of "wise man" for implementing the "surge" after Bush fired Donald Rumsfeld in November 2006 for standing behind his field generals and suggesting a faster U.S. troop drawdown in Iraq.
With the new conventional wisdom firmly established in 2008, media stars pounded Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama for his heresy regarding the "surge." In major televised interviews, CBS News' Katie Couric and ABC News' George Stephanopoulos demanded that Obama admit he was wrong to oppose the "surge" and that his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, was right to support it.
For weeks, Obama held firm, insisting correctly that the issue was more complicated than his interviewers wanted to admit. He argued that there were many factors behind Iraq's changed security environment. But ultimately he caved in while being interrogated on Sept. 4 by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly.
"I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated," Obama confessed to O'Reilly. "It's succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."
Much as Hagel is likely to do, Obama judged that continued resistance to this Washington "group think" was futile. But candidate Obama's surrender on the "successful surge" myth had long-term consequences.
For one, it gave Gen. Petraeus and Defense Secretary Gates inflated reputations inside Official Washington and greater leverage in 2009 to force President Obama into accepting a similar "surge" in Afghanistan, what some analysts now regard as Obama's biggest national security blunder. [For details, see Robert Parry's America's Stolen Narrative.]
The Iraq War's "surge" also did nothing to change the trajectory of an eventual American defeat there. Perhaps the only real accomplishment of the "surge" was to let President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney enjoy a decent interval between their departure from government in early 2009 and the unceremonious U.S. departure from Iraq in late 2011.
In the final accounting of the neocon adventure of conquering Iraq, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had died; some 30,000 were wounded; and an estimated $1 trillion was squandered. What was ultimately left behind was not only a devastated Iraqi population but an authoritarian Shiite government (in place of Saddam Hussein's authoritarian Sunni government) and an Iraq that had become a regional ally of Iran (rather than a bulwark against Iran).
The hard truth is that this bloody folly was not "salvaged" by the "surge" despite what the likes of Michael O'Hanlon and George F. Will claim. The "surge" simply extended the killing for a few more years and bought Bush and Cheney their "decent interval."
But none of this reality has persuaded Official Washington to rethink its "successful surge" orthodoxy -- and more likely than not, Chuck Hagel will be forced to genuflect before this conventional wisdom to win his Senate confirmation.
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