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Manchurian Senators

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People are doing journalism and the Washington Post is pissed. How to respond? Apparently the answer arrived at by Post editors is to just give up on any Americans who have been informing themselves and target those Americans who believe anything that super important people say. How else to explain an op-ed full of documented lies and published last Friday over the byline of two Democratic senators, Carl Levin and Jack Reed?

The headline was "The Surge Afghanistan Still Needs." Surge is not code for food or peace or environmental restoration or a moment's relief from the attentions of the world's oil, gas, and power addicts. Surge, in ignorant-American-newspaper-readerspeak is a term denoting the comical pretense that a criminal and genocidal invasion and occupation can be redeemed by escalating it. The term was coined in reference to Iraq, that hell on earth where pro-democracy demonstrators are now being murdered by the government that 20 years of war and sanctions built, even as that government demands reparations payments for recent US destruction.

Whenever a hopeless war drags on for year after year, with victory undefined and unimaginable, there is always an answer to the lack of progress, and that answer is always "send more troops." When violence goes down, more troops are needed to build on the success. When violence goes up, more troops are needed to clamp down. As I've reviewed in "War Is A Lie," this is traditional, and calling it a new name like "surge" won't make it moral, legal, or even "effective."

The saturation bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong was a way of ending a war with a pointless display of extra toughness. Just as the Vietnamese would have agreed to the same terms before the bombing that they agreed to afterward, the Iraqi government would have welcomed any treaty committing the United States to withdrawal years before the "surge," just before it, or during it. When the Iraqi Parliament did consent to the so-called Status of Forces Agreement in 2008, it did so only on the condition that a public referendum be held on whether to reject the treaty and opt for immediate withdrawal instead of a three-year delay. That referendum was never held.

President Bush's agreement to leave Iraq -- albeit with a three-year delay and uncertainty as to whether the United States would actually comply with the agreement -- was not called a defeat purely because there had been a recent escalation that had been called a success. In 2007, the United States had sent an extra 30,000 troops into Iraq with tremendous fanfare and a new commander, General David Petraeus.

The Congress and the President, the study groups and think tanks had all been setting "benchmarks" by which to measure success in Iraq since 2005. The President was expected by Congress to meet its benchmarks by January 2007. He did not meet them by that deadline, by the end of the "surge," or by the time he left office in January 2009. Nor has his replacement met them. There is no oil law to benefit the big oil corporations, no de-baathification law, and no constitutional review. In fact, there is no improvement in electricity, water, or other basic measures of recovery in Iraq. And protesters have the right to be shot. The "surge" was to advance these "benchmarks" and to create the "space" to allow political reconciliation and stability. Whether or not that is understood as code for U.S. control of Iraqi governance, even cheerleaders for the surge admit it did not achieve any political progress.

The measure of success for the "surge" was quickly downsized to include only one thing: a reduction in violence. This was convenient, first because it erased from Americans' memories anything else the surge was supposed to have accomplished, and second because the surge had happily coincided with a longer-term downward trend in violence. The surge was extremely small, and its immediate impact may have actually been an increase in violence. Brian Katulis and Lawrence Korb point out that, "The 'surge' of
U.S. troops to Iraq was only a modest increase of about 15 percent -- and smaller if one takes into account the reduced number of other foreign troops, which fell from 15,000 in 2006 to 5,000 by 2008." So, we added a net gain of 20,000 troops, not 30,000.

The extra troops were in Iraq by May 2007, and June and July were the most violent summer months of the entire war to that point. When the violence went down, there were reasons for the reduction that had nothing to do with the "surge." The decline was gradual, and the progress was relative to the horrendous levels of violence in early 2007. By the fall of 2007 in Baghdad there were 20 attacks per day and 600 civilians killed in political violence each month, not counting soldiers or police. Iraqis continued to believe the conflicts were mainly caused by the U.S. occupation, and they continued to want it to end quickly.

Attacks on British troops in Basra dropped dramatically when the British stopped patrolling population centers and moved out to the airport. No surge was involved. On the contrary, because so much violence had in fact been driven by the occupation, just as anonymous US military officials now admit about Afghanistan, scaling back the occupation predictably resulted in a reduction in violence, and would in Afghanistan.

Guerrilla attacks in al-Anbar province dropped from 400 per week in July 2006 to 100 per week in July 2007, but the "surge" in al-Anbar consisted of a mere 2,000 new troops. In fact, something else explains the drop in violence in al-Anbar. In January 2008, Michael Schwartz took it upon himself to debunk the myth that "the surge has led to the pacification of large parts of Anbar province and Baghdad." Here's what he wrote:

"Quiescence and pacification are simply not the same thing, and this is definitely a case of quiescence. In fact, the reduction in violence we are witnessing is really a result of the U.S. discontinuing its vicious raids into insurgent territory, which have been -- from the beginning of the war -- the largest source of violence and civilian casualties in Iraq. These raids, which consist of home invasions in search of suspected insurgents, trigger brutal arrests and assaults by American soldiers who are worried about resistance, gun fights when families resist the intrusions into their homes, and road side bombs set to deter and distract the invasions. Whenever Iraqis fight back against these raids, there is the risk of sustained gun battles that, in turn, produce U.S. artillery and air assaults that, in turn, annihilate buildings and even whole blocks.

"The 'surge' has reduced this violence, but not because the Iraqis have stopped resisting raids or supporting the insurgency. Violence has decreased in many Anbar towns and Baghdad neighborhoods because the U.S. has agreed to discontinue these raids; that is, the U.S. would no longer seek to capture or kill the Sunni insurgents they have been fighting for four years. In exchange the insurgents agree to police their own neighborhoods (which they had been doing all along, in defiance of the U.S.), and also suppress jihadist car bombs. The result is that the U.S. troops now stay outside of previously insurgent communities, or march through without invading any houses or attacking any buildings. So, ironically, this new success has not pacified these communities, but rather acknowledged the insurgents' sovereignty over the communities, and even provided them with pay and equipment to sustain and extend their control over the communities."

The United States was finally doing more right than just reducing its raids on people's homes. It was communicating its intention to, sooner or later, get out of the country. The peace movement in the United States had built growing support in Congress for withdrawal between 2005 and 2008. The 2006 elections sent the clear message to Iraq that Americans wanted out. Iraqis may have listened more carefully to that message than did U.S. Congress members themselves. Even the pro-war Iraq Study Group in 2006 supported a phased withdrawal. Brian Katulis and Lawrence Korb argue that,

-- the message that America's [military] commitment to Iraq was not open-ended motivated forces such as the Sunni Awakenings in Anbar province to partner with the U.S. to combat Al Qaeda in 2006, a movement that began long before the 2007 surge of U.S. forces. The message that Americans were leaving also motivated Iraqis to sign up for the country's security forces in record numbers."

As early as November 2005, leaders of the major Sunni armed groups had sought to negotiate peace with the United States, which wasn't interested. The biggest drop in violence came with the late 2008 commitment by Bush to fully withdraw by the end of 2011, and violence fell further after the withdrawal of U.S. forces from cities in the summer of 2009. Nothing de-escalates a war like de-escalating a war. That this could be disguised as an escalation of the war says more about the United States' public communications system than about the benefits of escalating crimes in order to end them.

Another major cause of the reductions in violence, which had nothing to do with the "surge," was the decision by Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the largest resistance militia, to order a unilateral cease-fire. As Gareth Porter reported,

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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