One year ago today, in an address to the nation, President Bush announced his new “surge” strategy for Iraq. In his speech, Bush said that the goal of the “surge” was to improve security in order to give the Iraqi government “the breathing space it needs” to “make reconciliation possible.”
Though violence in Iraq has diminished in the tail end of 2007, these “fragile” security gains have not been accompanied by sufficient “progress on any of the key political benchmarks so critical to bringing Iraq together.” In fact, as we enter 2008, Iraq is “even more bitterly divided along ethnic and sectarian lines than it was at the start of 2007.”
Despite the failure of the surge to meet its political goals, war hawks are rushing to declare victory. Writing in the Wall Street Journal today, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) declare that “the surge worked.”
Here are a few examples of how their claims of “victory” do not correspond with the reality in Iraq:
CLAIM: “The surge worked.”
FACT: In October, the Government Accountability Office assessed that of the eight political benchmarks set forth by President Bush and Congress, the Iraqi government had only “met one legislative benchmark and partially met another.” Since then, progress has stalled on key areas laid out by Bush: an oil law, de-Baathification reform, a process for amending the Constitution and provincial elections.
CLAIM: “Conditions in that country have been utterly transformed from those of a year ago, as a consequence of the surge.”
FACT: Though the “surge” has helped Sunni Arabs in Anbar province push al Qaeda in Iraq to the sidelines, the decision to turn on al Qaeda was not caused by the “surge.” U.S. commanders wisely “took advantage of these changing dynamics,” but they did not cause them. Additionally, as al Qaeda’s presence has decreased, sectarian strife has increased.
CLAIM: “We have at last begun to see the contours of what must remain our objective in this long, hard and absolutely necessary war — victory.”
FACT: Only politicians and pundits are speaking of victory. At the end of last year, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, cautioned that “recent security gains are fragile and still reversible.” “We are trying to be cautious as we describe the progress that is taking place in Iraq,” Petraeus told Foreign Affairs. “There are a number of concerns that we do have.”
For the one year anniversary of Bush’s surge speech, the Center for American Progress’s Brian Katulis and Peter Juul have laid out “four ticking time bombs” in Iraq that must be addressed. Instead of pre-maturely declaring victory as they so often do, McCain and Lieberman should take note and exercise the caution that Gen. Petraeus advises.
UPDATE: clammyc at Daily Kos has more.
UDPATE II: On Tuesday, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle Eastern Affairs Mark Kimmitt said that there’s “maybe” a “three in 10” chance “the surge will be a success.”