If there is one overriding consensus among Washington opinion leaders today, it is that Gen. David Petraeus is the perfect choice to turn around the failing war in Afghanistan because he supposedly already achieved such a feat in Iraq. But what if that conventional wisdom is wrong?
What if Petraeus's takeover in Iraq in 2007 and President George W. Bush's much-touted Iraq "surge" had little to do with the eventual reduction of violence in Iraq, that these were more coincidental than causal?
Then, the war in Afghanistan where President Barack Obama authorized an Iraq-like "surge" last fall is likely to drag on costing more lives and more money. There's also the prospect that Petraeus will want another surge next year rather than admit personal failure.
At Consortiumnews.com, we have made a point of challenging the Washington "group think" when facts and objective analyses go in a different direction. That is because sloppy conventional wisdom, when it dominates the power centers of Washington, can get many good people killed.
The Iraq War has been a classic example of how false assumptions can lead to disastrous policies. That was surely the case before the invasion when nearly everyone of importance was onboard with the bogus intelligence about WMD and Saddam Hussein's links to al-Qaeda terrorists.
That was followed by the premature victory celebrations, from MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews declaring "we're all neocons now" to President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech.
When all these assumptions proved wrong and the war in Iraq turned very ugly there was almost no accountability for either the journalists or the politicians who had clambered onto the invasion bandwagon.
Then, in 2006, the situation grew even grimmer as ethnic warfare between Shiites and Sunnis ripped Iraq apart and the U.S. death toll continued to rise with no end in sight.
Still, there was an eagerness in Washington to find some silver lining in the Iraqi thunder clouds, if for no other reason than a desire of some very important people to salvage their tarnished reputations. That opportunity presented itself amid the carnage of 2006.
Despite the worsening violence, the commanding generals, George Casey and John Abizaid, stuck to their insistence on as small a U.S. "footprint" as possible ,to tamp down Iraqi nationalism. They also tried to make several other initiatives work.
For one, Casey and Abizaid successfully deployed a classified operation to eliminate key al-Qaeda leaders, most notably the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June 2006. They also exploited growing Sunni animosities toward al-Qaeda extremists by paying off Sunni militants to join the so-called "Awakening" in Anbar Province.
And, as the Sunni-Shiite bloodshed reached horrendous levels in 2006, the U.S. military assisted in the defacto ethnic cleansing of mixed neighborhoods by helping Sunnis and Shiites move into separate enclaves, thus making the targeting of ethnic enemies more difficult.
The "Surge' Cometh
All this was occurring before Bush announced the "surge" of about 30,000 U.S. troops in January 2007, an escalation accompanied by the removals of Casey and Abizaid and putting Petraeus in charge. The "small footprint" strategy was discarded.
Without doubt, Petraeus also got lucky when radical Shiite leader Moktada al-Sadr issued a unilateral cease-fire, reportedly at the urging of his patrons in Iran who were interested in cooling down regional tensions.
As the extra U.S. troops arrived, the "surge" contributed to a spike in violence as both U.S. and Iraqi casualties reached some of the worst levels of the war.