As the stage is being set for an “AfPak Surge,” it might be time to take a look at Surge 1.0, in the now-forgotten war (the one we barged into when we forgot the Afghan War, which we’re now remembering), the one in Iraq. What we’ve been told incessantly, especially by Republicans, is that “the surge worked.” What exactly does that mean?
Let’s look at it for a moment with a cynical eye, the one possessed by politicians and satirists alike. The surge encompassed a rapid infusion of American troops, simultaneously accompanied by a short-term program of paying off Sunni insurgents to switch sides. What was supposed to happen was that the job of paying off the Sunnis would eventually transfer to the Shiite government, which would enroll the former insurgents in the national army and police. Meanwhile, peace would ensue, and we could withdraw.
What we’ve known for some time is that the Iraqi government wasn’t keeping up its end of the deal, that is, it was refusing to integrate the Sunnis into national forces. Now comes a report from the Sunday Times of London (owned by Rupert Murdoch) that says the southern city of Basra, famously cleaned up by a government surge last year, is now experiencing the return of militia members, who spent the intervening months chilling in Iran. The result: targeted killings of people, like translators, who worked with the British (who centered their operations in Basra).
So what was the real purpose of the surge, the real success? To act as a convenient fig leaf to cover our withdrawal of troops, perhaps? And leaving the following administration to reap the political splashback if renewed chaos ensues?
Would that be the real nature of the plan President Obama is announcing this week, Surgeleaf 2.0?