After four years of obstinate refusal to increase troops, Bush takes credit for the surge. McCain, with some justification thumps his chest claiming fatherhood of the surge. Unfortunately most pundits in the media also parrot the bumper sticker chorus," The surge is working."
Yes, American casualties are down; even the Iraqi casualties are down, but there is more to it than the surge. Let us not follow the propaganda mill blindly again. Consider the reasons that are more important and relevant than the surge itself.
Bush policy from the start of the Iraq invasion in March 2003, up to the Republican defeat in the Congressional elections in November, 2006 was essentially as follows:
- The level of troops in Iraq, about 130,000, is adequate. If the generals ask, more troops will be provided. The generals towed the line and did not question it publicly.
- Insistence that the dismantling of the Iraqi military, as well as the civilian infrastructure, was the correct policy, after the fall of Saddam. New civilian infrastructure, police and military are being trained with selected loyal Iraqis.
- All the resistance in Iraq is by Al Qaida supporters on the Sunni side, and Iran is fomenting trouble on the Shia side. No recognition of nationalist sentiments.
- Never negotiate with the insurgents who have American blood on their hands.
Bush, Chaney and Rumsfeld stubbornly adhered to the above mantras while Iraq descended into chaos. American deaths rose to more that 100 per month, reaching 160 in some months. In the meantime, bombing of Iraqi government targets rose dramatically, claiming more than 1,000 Iraqi lives per month. This increased internal religious strife, sinking into civil war. Consequently, about 15% of Iraqi population is displaced. Two million Iraqis fled to neighboring countries and another two million are internally displaced – "ethnically-cleansed" to safer sectarian neighborhoods.
Sunnis and Shias who lived in mixed neighborhoods fled to the ghetto-like safety of walled segregated neighborhoods. The safety walls between the cleansed-sectarian neighborhoods were erected by the American occupation authority.
The American electorate stirred from slumber and defeated Bush cronies in the Congressional elections of November 2006. Bush was forced to fire Rumsfeld, "face of the Iraq war" as the Secretary of Defense. Robert Gates, the new secretary, took the job reluctantly, but found greater freedom with the backing of the new Congress. The long awaited bipartisan Baker–”Hamilton report of December 2006, urbanely castigated the administration for doing everything wrong. Some of the important recommendations were that the administration should open a dialogue with the Iraqi resistance as well as the regional opposition and stop the torture and mistreatment of Iraqis.
Bush pretended to ignore the report, but quietly replaced the generals running the war in Iraq. Then with fanfare, he appointed General Petraeus, widely hailed for his humane and cooperative treatment of Kurds at the beginning of the war.
Reversing the largely discredited first three policies, the new policy, up front was to raise the troop strength from 130,000 to 165,000, popularly called the surge. But the violence remained unabated for the first few months of 2007, until General Petraeus, quietly reversed even the 4th bed-rock Bush policy of no quarter to those who killed Americans.
Petraeus recognized the obvious; the insurgency was not pro Al Qaida but nationalistic. He instituted a program, employing former insurgents fighting the Americans in the Sunni areas into provincial militia, particularly in the most dangerous Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad. The program pays $10 per day to about 100,000 of the militia, controlled by local sheiks, not the Shia-dominated Iraqi government. In the shattered economy of Iraq, $10 goes a long way. A total of $30 million per month is pittance compared to hemorrhaging of $12 billion per month.
Finally, a sane use of 30 million dollars, in complete reversal of the Bush policy, because almost all the people in the militia supported the resistance against the US forces and undoubtedly quite a few have American blood on their hands. Some may say it is bribery; a surrender to the enemy by the unyielding Bush. But it is the main factor that brought down the violence drastically.
The second reason for the decline in violence is that cleansed sectarian neighborhoods separated by barriers are easy to patrol. It dampened the sectarian violence.
The third reason is patience. With Bush limping towards the end of his term, Iraqi Sunnis and Shias are waiting him out for the new government in the US. They feel that with his diminished power for misadventures it is better to wait than fight.
It is not the surge by itself that is working. The addition of 30,000 troops has marginally helped, but the real reason is the changed Sunni attitude, because of the reversal of the US policy from suppression to paying the Sunnis and supporting them in local autonomy against the central government of Prime Minister Maliki, whom Bush gave unquestioning support. No wonder Maliki now insists on a time-table for American withdrawal.
Bush and McCain keep repeating the simplistic deceit about the surge, and the media keeps reporting it. Occasionally, voices are raised challenging it, but they do not make the front pages or the lead story on the network news.
The claim that the surge is working is akin to saying that sun rises because the rooster crows. Eight years ago, I would not have believed that a significant number of voters can be so duped, but after the two Bush terms I know they can be. We as a people were willingly duped at the start of the war. The question is, have we and the media learned the lesson of the duplicity of this administration or will we continue to be duped.