McCain’s Surge Shell Game

McCainblogger Mike Goldfarb cleverly defends the idea that John McCain’s former POW status qualifies him to be president by pointing out that Ted Galen Carpenter — who says it doesn’t, necessarily — was wrong about the Surge.

Here’s what Carpenter said in January 2007:

Increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 21,000 or so is a futile attempt to salvage a mission that has gone terribly wrong. It would merely increase the number of casualties-both American and Iraqi-over the short-term while having little long-term impact on the security environment. Moreover, the magnitude of the proposed build-up falls far short of the numbers needed to give the occupation forces a realistic prospect of suppressing the violence.

You will note that, in regard to increasing the number of American and Iraqi casualties over the short-term, Galen was completely correct. American and Iraqi casualties did increase in the first half of 2007, and the bloody sectarian cleansing of Baghdad went into overdrive.

Galen would also likely have been correct about the number of added troops falling short of what was needed, had the escalation not coincided with three other developments which most Iraq analysts credit ahead of the Surge with reducing violence: The Anbar awakening (which was itself a response to the credible threat American withdrawal), the Sadr militia “freeze,” and, eventually, the completion of the cleansing of Baghdad and the division of Sunnis and Shias into separate, fortified enclaves.

In promoting the legend of Straighttalk McSurge, McCain and his supporters have consistently underplayed these developments and their centrality to the improved Iraqi security environment. They have also studiously ignored the ways in which the Surge strategy — which McCain’s website humbly refers to as “The McCain Surge” — has failed to achieve its stated goal of political reconciliation, and has rather entrenched various political factions against each other in anticipation of future violence.

But getting back to Mr. Carpenter, let’s go to the question of why a troop surge was needed in the first place: The disastrous decision to invade Iraq. Here’s what Carpenter wrote back in January 2003, when he was among those arguing against the invasion:

A war with Iraq… will serve as a recruiting poster for Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. However much Americans might believe that an attack on Iraq is justified, it will be perceived throughout the Islamic world as aggressive U.S. imperialism.

Check, and check (pdf). Do we really need to go into what McCain was saying back then? His webmaster sure doesn’t think so.

If John McCain had possessed Carpenter’s judgment back in 2003, we wouldn’t have needed a Surge, but nothing in McCain’s supposedly vast experience equipped him to make the right call on the single most important national security question of his career. This inconvenient fact is, of course, irrelevant to McCain’s bravery when imprisoned in Vietnam.