Editor’s Note: George W. Bush, John McCain and other Iraq War hawks are crediting the "surge" for a decline in violence in Iraq, even though other factors appear to have been more important including the outrageous actions of the hyper-violent al-Qaeda group which produced a predictable backlash among Sunnis.
The other chief consequence of the "surge" has been to buy the Bush administration time to run out the clock, as the Independent Institute's Ivan Eland notes in this guest essay:
As the fifth anniversary of the United States’ second-longest (next to Vietnam) and second-costliest (next to World War II) war passes, the good news is that the counterinsurgency strategy of Gen. David Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno seems to be working. The bad news is that it will probably not save Iraq.
Although the U.S. troop “surge” has had some effect, it is probably not the most important factor dampening violence back down to the levels of mid-2004.
The United States had comparable force levels in Iraq (about 155,000 troops) in 2005, but the mayhem was worse than now and was increasing.
Furthermore, the carnage in Iraq started dropping even before the United States began the surge (and temporarily increased again as U.S. troops were being added).
In part, prior ethnic cleansing that had more cleanly separated hostile Shiite and Sunni populations has likely caused the reduction. Even more important was probably Petraeus’s and Odierno’s exploitation of the fissure between mainline Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s blindingly incompetent slaughter of fellow Muslim civilians, which brought rebuke even by al-Qaeda’s central leadership, caused Sunni insurgents to get fed up and turn against the group. [See Consortiumnews.com's 2006 article, "Al-Qaeda's Fragile Foothold."]
Petraeus and Odierno cleverly exploited this fissure by driving a wedge between the two factions. Although guerrilla operations are the most successful form of warfare in human history and counterinsurgency forces seldom win over the long term, they do best when they can divide the rebel movement.
The United States was able to defeat the Greek communist insurgents during the 1947-49 period and Filipino rebels from 1900 to 1902 by splitting the insurgencies. In the latter case, the United States was able to persuade Emilio Aguinaldo, the most prominent rebel commander—perhaps by a cash payment—to surrender his forces.
In Iraq, the United States is now essentially paying off former Sunni guerrillas in the “Awakening Councils” by funding, equipping and training them to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq and working with the formerly hostile Shiite Mahdi militia.
Although this strategy has merits by attenuating violence in the short term, it will likely exacerbate Iraq’s larger problems, thus eventually leading to a full-blown civil war.
The Petraeus and Odierno strategy makes sense if the objective is to keep a lid on the violence until President Bush leaves office.
When the tar baby is successfully passed onto the next president, Bush can then rerun the “Kissinger” argument from Vietnam. That argument goes something like this: “The United States would have won the Vietnam War if the Democratic Congress hadn’t cut off funding for it.”
In Iraq, the similar Bush administration refrain will be: “The situation in Iraq was improving until we left office and handed over to power to President X.”