Posts Tagged ‘surge’

Thursday marks the sixth anniversary of the U.S.’s military assault on Iraq. The occupation continues today, although President Obama recently stated his intent to withdraw our forces:

Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end….And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

The endpoint outlined by the president will come five years after public opinion turned solidly against the war.

It will have taken the anti-war movement in the United States more than five years to make the official policies match the will of the people. That should be a glaring warning to our movement: online petitions and rallies on the Capitol lawn are insufficient to change policies in a timely way. The policymakers in our country manage orderly dissent very well.

That’s not a critique of the powerholders; it’s a critique of us. The function of the incumbent is to manage dissent. Our job as peacemakers is to make dissent unmanageable.

The saga of Cindy Sheehan, which was a microcosm of the relationship between the larger anti-war movement and the powerholding elite in this country, transformed her lone, principled and powerful voice for the human cost of war into a political force, which was then co-opted by Democratic elites, marginalized and ultimately discarded once it lost its utility. The same dynamic happened in the larger political world over the same time period: Democrats took power in Congress in 2006 on the rising tide of anti-war sentiment in America and used it in part to take the White House in 2008, only to marginalize the anti-war movement in the policymaking process.

To keep the occupation going as long as politically possible, powerholders framed the debate on withdrawal as “responsibility vs. irresponsibility.”

During the 2008 presidential race, Republican powerholders portrayed proposals to end the occupation as “irresponsible” and raised the spectre of genocide:

“[We] cannot consign Iraqis to genocide that would follow reckless, irresponsible and premature withdrawal,” McCain said in his speech to the World Affairs Council.

Democratic powerholders responded to this with some wily framing of their own. Portraying themselves as moderates situated between Republicans and get-out-and-get-out-now anti-war activists, Democrats adopted a frame of “responsible redeployment.” This frame draws an unspoken contrast with advocates for “irresponsible redeployment,” i.e. the principled anti-war movement on the Capitol lawn. This movement to slow-walk an end to the occupation succeeded in marginalizing advocates for immediate withdrawal by appealing to the same nightmare scenarios as the Republicans. Then-candidates Obama and Biden pushed for “a responsible, phased withdrawal,” but cited “potential genocidal violence within Iraq” to stave off calls for a faster end to our occupation.

The outcome of these combined framing efforts was to paint the anti-war movement as “irresponsible,” bordering on “pro-genocide.” Today’s message is “we can’t end the Iraq war any sooner because we’re concerned about civilian casualties.” That’s an interesting new development, considering that powerholders, suddenly so concerned about civilian deaths in 2008-2009, were deaf to that very same concern voiced by members of their own parties back in 2002, including U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey:

I believe that a decision to invade Iraq would be a terrible mistake: The President’s single-mindedness threatens the lives of thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, ignores international law, disregards our Constitution, and undermines our fight against terrorism.

These same policymakers, suddenly so concerned about civilian casualties, do not even count the civilian dead:

In the evenings, women in black gather at Umm Fatin’s house to remember the dead.

Each family in the four neighboring houses in Tahrir, a former Sunni insurgent stronghold in Baqubah, has lost loved ones to bombings or shootings. Yet these deaths and countless others have fallen under the radar of the Iraq war. Nobody keeps an accurate tally of Iraqis killed because nobody knows.

As the Iraq conflict approaches its sixth anniversary, the number of American troop deaths – more than 4,250 – has been meticulously logged by the US military. Yet analysts are no closer to knowing how many Iraqi civilians have been killed, and they acknowledge a credible death toll will probably never be recorded.

Our national politicians take on a deformed version of responsibility, meticulously avoiding responsibility for actual civilian deaths (which we “regret” but always with caveats) while claiming the policies that cause civilian deaths are necessary to prevent more civilian deaths. This tension led to a now-famous exclamation from Muqtada al-Sadr, after then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said we would not interfere with a potential civil war in Iraq :

…US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said last week that the US military would not intervene in an Iraqi civil war, leaving that to Iraqi forces.

‘May God damn you,’ Sadr said of Rumsfeld. ‘You said in the past that civil war would break out if you were to withdraw, and now you say that in case of civil war you won’t interfere. ‘”

This dynamic continued to play out during the “surge.” The military claimed the surge brought a reduction in violence, despite clear evidence that a brutal civil war and ethnic cleansing concluded right as the new troops hit the ground, leading to a drop-off in violence (which tends to happen when one group slaughters their opposition). But despite the fact that our occupation did not take responsibility for stopping this real civil slaughter, powerholders want us to stay as long as possible so we can be responsible for stopping a hypothetical slaughter.

Obama’s election represented a partial victory for the anti-war movement in the United States, and we should celebrate that. But as our official policies set a course toward ending this murderous misadventure in Mesopotamia, we should keep the historical account of powerholders’ motives honest. And as our powerholders slow-walk the end of one war while intensifying another, the anti-war movement must take a hard look at our own tactics to prevent being hamstrung like this in the future.

We owe that much, at least, to the dead.


A quick question for the proponents of an escalation in Afghanistan: What are we protecting from a revolution?

The “surge” in Iraq was an exercise in counterinsurgency (COIN). Counterinsurgency is by definition the attempt to protect against a revolution. But in Afghanistan, the authority and structures of the corrupt Kabul regime do not and have not extended into the south of Afghanistan, where the new U.S. troop forces will concentrate.

At best, we’ll be protecting a thoroughly corrupt regime from revolution. At worst, we’ll be defending a phantom from revolution–the writ of Kabul never extended into the targeted areas after our initial invasion.  There’s literally no functioning system which can be defended against revolution in the border region, which means our troops will be sent to the region with the hope that a toxic regime will eventually extend its influence there, or, more likely, to be the de facto regime in the area and to defend ourselves against the Taliban’s influence and violence.

Advocates of counterinsurgency seem to presuppose that there is an established government worth defending with American lives in Afghanistan. There isn’t.

In addition, the proposed counterinsurgency strategy will be enormously expensive while failing to provide sufficient support to the development of democratic structure and civil society. Proponents of an escalation bear the burden of explaining to the American people in detail why their proposed strategy in Afghanistan is worth the enormous cost and risk when other, much less costly methods for turning back an insurgency, including the Anti-Coup and Civilian-Based Defense, would simultaneously give locals the tools to turn back the Taliban and strengthen civil society.

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.


Posted: August 12, 2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I remember sitting in my office down the hall from the first “Petraeus Hearing,” watching the closed-circuit feed as the general and Ambassador Crocker showed charts tracking the Balkanization of Baghdad. The charts illustrated in mathematical, sterile terms that Baghdad reorganized itself along lines of ethnicity and mutual suspicion. The report below dramatizes the cold numbers with pictures and stories. It’s a heartbreaking repudiation of the myth of redemptive violence. Those who say that the “surge is working” have a very limited and brutal view of success.

The image in part 2 of the desolate wasteland of junk, each piece an impromptu gravestone for an unnamed victim of the militias, is heart-rending and poignant.

(Hat tip to Crooks and Liars for finding and posting these links.)

Look on these neighborhoods, these endless, shallow dust-fields of unmarked graves, these walls feebly containing an overflow of pain-wracked violence, and tell me that this is fruit of a Christian nation’s actions on behalf of Christ.

One:     Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world
All:     Have mercy on us
One:     Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world
All:     Free us from the bondage of sin and death
One:     Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world
All:     Hear our prayer. Grant us peace.

One: For the victims of war
All: Have mercy
One: Women, men and children
All: Have mercy
One: The maimed and the crippled
All: Have mercy
One: The abandoned and the homeless
All: Have mercy
One: the imprisoned and the tortured
All: Have mercy
One: The widowed and the orphaned
All: Have mercy
One: The bleeding and the dying
All: Have mercy
One: The weary and the desperate
All: Have mercy
One: The lost and the forsaken
All: Have mercy

One:   O God — Have mercy on  us sinners
All:     Forgive us for we know not what we do
One:    For our scorched and blackened earth
All:     Forgive us
One:    For the scandal of billions wasted in war
All:     Forgive us
One:    For our arms makers and arms dealers
All:    Forgive us
One:    For our Caesars and Herods
All:    Forgive us
One:     For the violence that is rooted in our hearts
All:    Forgive us

–From The Litany of Resistance.