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Max Bergmann

Max Bergmann

Posted: June 11, 2008 10:57 AM

Who Has No Fundamental Understanding of the Surge?

I am catching this a little late, but this is important to correct. The McCain campaign attacked Barack Obama for saying that the surge would result in an increase in violence. Pointing to this quote from Obama:

"I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse."

McCain says that that was clearly wrong saying:

Sen. Obama said that the effect would be the reverse. So, he has no fundamental understanding of the entire situation that warranted the surge, which led to the success."

This is ridiculous. The surge DID increase violence in Iraq. Yes the last eight months violence is down - but the eight months before that were the most violent since the war began - making 2007 (the year of the surge) the deadliest year for American troops (see the chart from icasulaties below). Putting U.S. troops in the most dangerous neighborhoods of Iraq was bound to increase violence.

Casualties_by_month_3 Violence has decreased since  - and while the troop increase and the change in strategy has had an important impact, other factors (factors not a part of the original of the surge plan) explain the decline in violence much more effectively. What are these:

1. We cut deals with the enemy. The Anbar awakening and the deals struck with Sunni insurgents were the most important factor contributing to the decline and violence. But its important to note that this was NOT part of the original surge strategy but was arrived at due to the escalating violence and the failures of Iraq's political leaders to make any headway on the political benchmarks laid out by the Bush administration as part of the surge.

2. Ethnic cleansing was more or less achieved in most neighborhoods. As in other ethnic conflicts - violence usually peaks at the outset, as integrated neighborhoods are forcefully segregated. As neighborhoods become segregated they are often walled off - creating more security for neighborhood residents by preventing outsiders from entering. This has been a tactic deployed by Petraeus and is a common counter-insurgency tactic. While this is effective at preventing violence, it also has the negative side effect of freezing sectarian divisions in place creating a significant long term obstacle to reconciliation (think Belfast).

3. We had a cease-fire agreement with Sadr, which has been extremely important in lowering attacks on the U.S.

Attributing the recent decrease in violence solely to the increase in troop levels and ignoring the fact that violence significantly increased during the first eight months of the surge is indicative of someone who "lacks a fundamental understanding of the entire situation that warranted the surge."