Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki placed himself in the center of the presidential campaign by endorsing in principle the timetable for troop withdrawal offered by Barack Obama.
Clearly, the prime minister has undercut John McCain's assertions that the surge is working and that it is irresponsible to establish such timetables without considering the conditions on the ground.
In addition to the damage done to the McCain campaign as it relates to Iraq's future, al-Maliki's statement also raises questions about the present, specifically the effectiveness of the surge.
Conventional wisdom maintains that the surge is working and that violence is down.
If an overwhelming number of police officers were deployed in any high-crime urban area in the country, as in the case of, say, Baghdad, I am certain violence would decrease. But how long would such efforts be required so that the officers could be redeployed to other areas?
The post-surge violence is down, but mobility for the average Iraqi is still limited. In the areas where the surge is implemented its success is dependent on confining Iraqis primarily to their neighborhoods.
Moreover, the underlining reasons for much of the violence in Iraq is beyond the surge's control. What is the relationship between the success of the surge and the centuries-old tension that exist among Sunnis, Kurds, and Shia, who currently live within boundaries imposed upon them by the British in 1920?
Even the name Iraq has its origins in British invasion and occupation.
Basra is an area that proponents of the surge like to hold up as proof positive of success. But the surge has nothing to do with lowering the inflation in Basra, which has increased 300-400 percent on certain products since Saddam Hussein was overthrown.
Security crackdowns may quell the violence, but that does not mean Basra is any less chaotic especially if the cost to purchase basic goods to survive has doubled.
The surge clearly has no power over the immigration black market in Iraq that has grown exponentially since the American invasion and occupation. Thousands of Iraqis each day place their hopes on leaving the country with smuggling mafias who sell them foreign passports and the faint possibility of seeking asylum in Europe.
On the legitimate front, Jordan has approved 17,000 Iraqis to enter the country in the last three months.
According to the United Nations, more than 750,000 Iraqis have been allowed to immigrate to Jordan since the American invasion began.
The U.N. also reports more than 4 million Iraqis, mostly professionals who would be key to rebuilding the infrastructure if Iraq is to be a democracy, have fled since 2003. Some estimates have it as high as 100,000 refugees leaving Iraq each month.
If the surge is working beyond the linear definition that violence is down, then why are so many Iraqis still leaving the country legally or illegally?
The other problem with the surge is it continues to be framed in the oxymoron language of winning and losing. Iraq is not a war; it is an occupation.
The fundamental purpose of the surge is to lessen the violence created by the U.S. invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation. If occupation is a post-victory process, one cannot be winning something that it is occupying; it can only control it for a finite time period.
If we examine the 17-month surge through the lens of whether the violence is down in Iraq, we would have to conclude it is working.
However, "the surge is working" is a present tense statement, most Americans want to hear the surge has worked -- past tense. There remains a chasm between the suffixes ing and ed that is wide with no visible means of connecting the two short of a phased troop withdrawal.
The United States simply cannot prolong a policy that pushes the occupation of Iraq into perpetuity. The good news is the majority of Americans who support troop withdrawal now have an ally the Iraqi prime minister.
Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website byronspeaks.com
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