The war and ongoing occupation of Iraq is a hole into which the English language and American reason have crawled to die. Words and ideas are bent in grotesque contortions until words with usual positive connotations mean crimes against humanity. Our language gets away from us.
The most egregious facet of this phenomenon is the debate about whether the “surge” worked. Recall Senator Obama’s (D-Ill.) recent interview with Bill O’Reilly. The FOX pundit pressed Obama mercilessly on this question and derided him for not just flat-out saying “Yes, Bill, the surge worked.” After all, American deaths per day are down. This is a very useful frame for pro-war political actors. The frame queues up a sub-question: whether one is willing to give (hypothetical) due credit to our men and women in uniform for fixing a problem. The idea is to get the answerer to dance inside the frame while trying to say no, and thereby wreck their credibility with the audience as they try to split hairs with professorial answers. Even answering “no” queues up the sub-question, which the interrogator attempts to use to paint the answerer as “un-American.” The surge happened, then the drop in daily deaths happened, and so therefore the surge caused the drop in violence. Deny that “reality,” and you must be either just plain wrong, or worse, of a certain ideological bent or in the service of an agenda that makes you unwilling to admit that President Bush’s escalation was benefitial.
Anyone asked this question in this way should reject the frame completely and explain the outcome in Iraq in an entirely new frame for several reasons:
1) There is no win for an anti-war answerer within the confines of this frame. A pro-war questioner would like for you to agree with them, but they would love for you to disagree with them so that they can use your denial to discredit you.
2) The question is based on a logical fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc, “after this, therefore because of this.” The premises of the frame–the escalation preceded the drop in violence–do not lead necessarily to the conclusion–that the surge led to a drop in violence. The premises can be true and the conclusion false. And, in fact, this is exactly the case when we examine what led to a drop in violence, according to a new study by Environment and Planning A:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Satellite images taken at night show heavily Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Baghdad began emptying before a U.S. troop surge in 2007, graphic evidence of ethnic cleansing that preceded a drop in violence, according to a report published Friday.
The images support the view of international refugee organizations and Iraq experts that a major population shift was a key factor in the decline in sectarian violence, particularly in the Iraqi capital, the epicenter of the bloodletting in which hundreds of thousands were killed.
Minority Sunni Arabs were driven out of many neighborhoods by Shi’ite militants enraged by the bombing of the Samarra mosque in February 2006. The bombing, blamed on the Sunni militant group al Qaeda, sparked a wave of sectarian violence.
“By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left,” geography professor John Agnew of the University of California Los Angeles, who led the study, said in a statement.
“Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning,” said Agnew, who studies ethnic conflict.
In other words, the surge had absolutely nothing to do with the drop in violence. The report brings us to the next major reason to reject this frame…
3) The current situation in Iraq is not a “success.” Shi’ite militants took al-Qaida’s bait and killed or displaced Sunnis until they ran out of Sunnis. What we’re seeing right now is not “peace,” but a desolation. The silence is the silence of a graveyard. When an ethnic cleansing happens, you do not call it “success.” When the nightmare that your policies should have aimed to prevent comes true anyway, it is not a “win.” Rwanda 1994 was not “success.” The Balkan horrors of the early 1990s were not “successes.” Darfur is not a success. Ethnic cleansing is not success. To call the surge a success is to put a stamp of approval on the end-state of a genocidal process. To do so would be monstrous.
Q: Do you or do you not believe the surge worked?
A: The ’06/’07 ethnic cleaning in Iraq was not success, and the surge didn’t cause it.