The president spoke briefly this morning from the White House, heralding the “success of the surge” for creating “sustained progress” in Iraq. Soon after, Joe Lieberman announced that he and Lindsey Graham are “introducing a resolution recognizing the strategic success that the surge has achieved in a central front — the central front of the war on terror against the enemies who attacked America on 9/11/01, and expressing our thanks to our troops who’ve made that success possible.”
Ben at TP did a nice job knocking this down, emphasizing "the obvious fact that the terrorists who carried out the September 11, 2001 terror attacks operated out of Afghanistan, not Iraq," and that the policy that Lieberman supports has "prevented the U.S. from sending more troops where they are needed, in Afghanistan."
Quite right. I’d add that Lieberman’s insistence that the surge defeated “the enemies who attacked America on 9/11/01″ also suggests he thinks al Qaeda is (or at least, has been) the principal cause of violence in Iraq. That’s completely wrong, too.
Last spring, it became painfully obvious that the president started lying about al Qaeda in Iraq as part of a cynical approach to bolstering support for the war. While that was hardly unexpected, the more noticeable problem was that the media started playing along with the White House’s scheme, and began characterizing everyone who commits an act of violence in Iraq as an al Qaeda terrorist.
The New York Times’ public editor, Clark Hoyt, eventually tackled the subject head on in a terrific column; the paper took steps to make amends; and news outlets have generally been more responsible about not equating all Iraqi violence with AQI.
But Lieberman wants to fudge the details in the hopes that Americans don’t know the difference. If violence is down, the surge worked. If the surge worked, we’ve beaten al Qaeda. It’s completely wrong, but it might fool those who aren’t paying attention.
“The U.S. has not been fighting Al Qaeda, it’s been fighting Iraqis,” said Juan Cole, a fierce critic of the war who is the author of “Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi’ite Islam” and a professor of history at the University of Michigan. A member of Al Qaeda “is technically defined as someone who pledges fealty to Osama bin Laden and is given a terror operation to carry out. It’s kind of like the Mafia,” Mr. Cole said. “You make your bones, and you’re loyal to a capo. And I don’t know if anyone in Iraq quite fits that technical definition.”
Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is just one group, though a very lethal one, in the stew of competing Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias, Iranian-backed groups, criminal gangs and others that make up the insurgency in Iraq. That was vividly illustrated last month when the Iraqi Army’s unsuccessful effort to wrest control of Basra from the Shiite militia groups that hold sway there led to an explosion of violence.
The current situation in Iraq should properly be described as “a multifactional civil war” in which “the government is composed of rival Shia factions” and “they are embattled with an outside Shia group, the Mahdi Army,” Ira M. Lapidus, a co-author of “Islam, Politics and Social Movements” and a professor of history at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in an e-mail message. “The Sunni forces are equally hard to assess,” he added, and “it is an open question as to whether Al Qaeda is a unified operating organization at all.”
There’s also, of course, the political considerations. Lieberman and Graham, McCain’s two most sycophantic allies, want a resolution recognizing “the strategic success that the surge has achieved in a central front — the central front of the war on terror against the enemies who attacked America on 9/11/01, and expressing our thanks to our troops who’ve made that success possible.” The want that so Barack Obama will be compelled to take a position on it. If he opposes it because it’s based on bogus and ignorant premises, it’s yet another cudgel for the McCain campaign.
I wonder, will there ever be a presidential campaign for grown-ups?