We’ve been dealing with this kind of argument for a little too long now. When conditions in Iraq deteriorate, the Bush administration says, “We can’t withdraw U.S. troops now; this is when they’re needed most.” When violence wanes, those same officials say, “We can’t withdraw U.S. troops now; their presence is helping bring some stability to Iraq.” We should stay the course if Iraq improves, and stay the course if Iraq worsens. Either way, we have to stay the course.
Evaluating the “surge” has become a similar game. The policy is a success, the administration insists, because violence and casualties have gone down. That the point of the policy was to create conditions for political progress, of which there’s been none, is apparently an inconvenience that is supposed to go unmentioned.
And now that violence in Basra is erupting, and the Mahdi ceasefire may be unraveling, you’ll never guess what the Bush gang believes now. Yep, this is proof of the success of the surge, too.
The Pentagon on Wednesday said an eruption of violence in southern Iraq, where US-backed government forces were battling Shiite militias, was a “by-product of the success of the surge.”
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said it showed that the Iraqi government and security forces were now confident enough to take the initiative against Shiite extremists in the southern port of Basra.
“Citizens down there have been living in a city of chaos and corruption for some time and they and the prime minister clearly have had enough of it,” he said at a Pentagon press conference.
It’s hard to overstate how unpersuasive this is.
As John Cole explained very well:
The positive outcome of the surge to stop the violence was an increase in elective violence.
Let’s not debate the merits or veracity of this claim, but point out that this is the worst framing of the situation in Iraq, ever — “The surge is so successful that we can expect a lot more violence!” This is even dumber than the previously trumpeted “The fact that they are resorting to suicide bombs is a sign of our success!”
That latter point wasn’t a joke, by the way; the administration and its allies really used that argument.
I’d just add that at the Pentagon’s press conference Wednesday, Geoff Morrell added that the violence in Basra is “a sign that the Iraqi security forces are now capable of confronting, fundamentally, their problems.” That would sound encouraging, if it were true, which it isn’t.
As James Joyner added, “The problem with this analysis, at least from the vantage point of what has happened thus far, is that the operation has been a disaster. Reports on NPR this morning say the Iraqi Army is vastly outmanned and outgunned. Further, there have been cases — how many is unclear — of Iraqi soldiers taking off their uniforms and joining the enemy. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.”
No, it certainly does not. I am, however, fairly certain that I can predict the administration’s next argument: “The fact that the Iraqi Army got clobbered by Shiite militias reminds us that the U.S. has a lot of work to do in building up the country’s security forces, and should plan to be there for the foreseeable future. Any talk of a withdrawal, in light of the bloodshed in Basra, is obviously inappropriate.”
After all, it’s heads Bush wins, tails we lose.