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Marketing a Myth: How John McCain Actually Got The Surge Wrong

07/22/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

To hear John McCain tell it, you'd think the fall-off in American casualties in Iraq is due solely to his foresight and foreign policy experience. It's amazing to me just how many people have bought the McCain line, even those who should know better. "As we now know nearly four years later," a Newsweek commentator recently noted, "McCain was dead on in his analysis of what went wrong in Iraq ... McCain was so right that, among military experts today, the emerging conventional wisdom about Bush's current 'surge' is that if had occurred back then -- when McCain wanted it and the political will existed in this country to support it for the necessary number of years -- it might well have succeeded."

What a bunch of bunk.

Since the beginning of this year, military experts that I've talked to argue that the fall-off in violence in Iraq had almost nothing to do with the increase in American troop levels -- and everything to do with actually talking with and supporting the previous insurgents. Recent published reports confirm that talks with the insurgents began all the way back in December of 2003, when military officers met with Sunni insurgent leaders in Amman, Jordan. Not only that, but when those talks were actually opposed by the administration, the military went ahead with the talks anyway.

But don't take my word for it, go back and read what General David Petraeus told the Congress in April of 2007, before the surge was actually in place. Back then, Petraeus told the Congress that the levels of violence in Iraq were down significantly and that "the tribes" were the key to that transformation. Let me repeat that: recruiting the Sunni tribes (and not the surge) has been the key to success in Iraq, along with the stand-down of the Mahdi Army. Petraeus is not alone in his thinking. The tribes of Anbar joined U.S. forces, according to U.S. Captain Jay McGee -- an intelligence officer with the 69th Armored Regiment -- because "everyone is convinced Coalition forces are going to leave and they are saying, 'We do not want Al Qaeda to take control of the area when that happens."

This isn't exactly new information. Dozens of American newspapers and magazines have documented how the military recruited Iraq's Sunni tribes as our allies -- the same tribes that had once been fighting us. And all of this began before the U.S. increased the number of troops in the country. So let's stop taking John McCain's claim, his myth, at face value. The increase in American troops in Iraq had nothing to do with defeating the Iraqi insurgency and everything to do with actually talking with them. To claim otherwise is to market a myth and it's time for John McCain to acknowledge it -- to give credit where credit is due: to those fine officers of our military who decided to talk, even as the administration continued to beat the war drums.

Lt. General Robert G. Gard Jr. (USA, Ret.) is the steering committee chairman of Vets for Obama. Visit their official site or join them on Facebook.