Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Spinning the War -- Again

The March 5th edition of the Wall Street Journal carried a story, demurely buried on Page 13, citing the latest public opinion poll from the non-partisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press on the public’s view about the war on terror in general, the Iraq war in particular, and more specifically the public’s percept ion of the success of the 2007 “troop surge”: “The perception that the U.S. troop surge in Iraq has succeeded….” The February poll found that 48 per cent of respondents thought the war in Iraq was “going well” or “fairly well” and 47 percent said that U.S. troops ought to stay in Iraq for now – nearly as many (49 percent) who called for immediate or rapid withdrawal

Also on March 5th, the Houston Chronicle ran a story entitled “Army Unit That Led The Surge Is Heading For Home.” Just days after President George Bush’s January 10, 2007 television address to the nation in which he formally announced that an additional 21,000 U.S. soldiers (the real number was closer to 29,000) would be placed “in harm’s way,” a combat brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in Iraq and began operations in Baghdad against rampaging sectarian militias bent on “cleansing” each neighborhood of the minority sect. The first soldier to die on this deployment was killed January24, 2007. Barring additional deaths among the wounded, the last fatality suffered on this brigade deployment occurred February 5th, 2008. Overall, the brigade lost 25 soldiers.

This brigade is the second of five, along with two Marine Corps combat battalions, expected to be withdrawn by July but not be replaced by a fresh U.S. unit. One of the Marine battalions was withdrawn in December as part of the pre-Christmas reduction of 5,000 promised by Bush in September 2007. Further troop reductions will be signaled in April when the commander of the coalition forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, is to advise the president and answer questions in testimony before Congress.

Once the five combat brigades and the Marine battalions have redeployed, total U.S. troop strength in Iraq will be about 140,000 – some 8,000 over the total in-country before the surge began.

Once again the public is letting the administration get away with spinning the news. In announcing the troop increase. President Bush told the public that the added numbers of U.S. soldiers would give the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “political space” in which to debate and enact laws amending earlier statutes regarding employment of low-level Ba’ath party members, create new arrangements for distribution of revenues from sales of oil, and finalize arrangements for provincial government officials. The “employment” law did more harm than good; agreement on the oil revenue sharing formula was only partially reached; and the Iraqi president vetoed the election law.

That’s zero for three.

The reduction in fatalities among U.S. and coalition forces, the Iraqi military, other Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi civilians in the last five months of 2007 and, for the foreign forces, the first two months of 2008, allowed the White House to assert the surge’s success. But there is no simple cause-effect logic here. The reductions are due to at least three factors: the Mahdi army stand down first ordered by Moqtada Sadr in April 2007 and extended last month to the end of 2008, the increase of U.S. combat units in Iraq, and most significantly, the spread of U.S.-funded Sunni “Awakening Councils” – the informal “neighborhood watch” groups organized by tribal sheiks and paid and armed by U.S. military units. The Shi’a-dominated central government has opposed the formation of the Councils, fearing that the Pentagon is creating another armed militia that will ratchet up violence exponentially in the aftermath of a coalition withdrawal. The math says it all: in a nation of 27 million people, there are approximately 900,000 entitled to carry arms.

And speaking of math, that’s another zero for three.


Blogger rasphila said...

In the midst of a media consensus that the "surge" is working, it's good to see a dissenting voice. Whether a change in tactics—which is, of course, what the surge is—is working depends on the overall strategy and the policy goals the tactics are supposed to achieve. I notice that the Administration has regularly defined "success" down as the war has failed again and again to achieve its goals, or any goal whatsoever. The original goal, spreading democracy throughout the Middle East, was unachievable by military means in any case. If nothing else, the war in Iraq has demonstrated that you can't solve every problem by throwing troops at it.

8:05 PM  

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