However, in 2008, the still-influential neocons saw an opportunity to rehabilitate their bloody reputations when the numbers of Iraq War casualties declined. The neocons credited themselves and the "successful surge" with the improvement.
As the neocons pushed this "successful surge" myth, they were aided by the mainstream news media, which also had promoted the ill-fated war and was looking for a way to bolster its standing with the public. Typical of this new conventional wisdom, Newsweek published a cover story on the "surge" under the title, "Victory at Last." To say otherwise brought you harsh criticism for not giving credit to "the troops."
The Myth's Consequences
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. (At the time, many Democrats, including then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, misinterpreted Rumsfeld's dismissal and Gates's hiring as a sign that Bush would wind down the war when it actually signaled his plan to escalate it.)
With the "successful surge" conventional wisdom firmly established in 2008, media stars pounded Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama for his heresy in doubting 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. 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, 2008, 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."
Obama apparently judged that continued resistance to this Washington "group think" was futile. Candidate Obama's surrender on the "successful surge" myth also was the first sign of his tendency to cave in when faced with a misguided Washington consensus.
His capitulation had other long-term consequences. For one, it gave Gen. Petraeus and Defense Secretary Gates inflated reputations inside Official Washington and greater leverage in 2009 (along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) to force President Obama into accepting a similar "surge" in Afghanistan, what some analysts view 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 what amounted to a major American national security failure. Perhaps the only real accomplishment of the "surge" was to let President Bush and Vice President Cheney enjoy a "decent interval" between their departure from government in early 2009 and the unceremonious U.S. departure from Iraq in late 2011. That "decent interval" was purchased with the lives of about 1,000 U.S. soldiers and countless thousands of Iraqis.
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 nation 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 the bloody folly of the Iraq War was not "salvaged" by the "surge" -- despite that preferred Washington narrative. As thrilling as it might be to think back on the heroic President Bush and the brave neocons bucking the anti-war pressures in 2007 and saving the day, the harsh reality is that another 1,000 U.S. soldiers and many more Iraqis were sent to their deaths in the cause of creating a politically useful myth.