2007 Deadliest Year: Defining A Successful Surge? genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak

Defending Illusions

It's easy to get lost in the rhetoric that seeks to explain the status of the war in Iraq. Opponents and apologists alike work tirelessly to find the ammunition necessary to support their positions...yet only two thing remains a constant...the war continues and the deaths it creates are tallied.

Our latest preoccupation is defining the merits of, and deciphering the benefits from, the surge. Is it a success? Has it facilitated a turning point? What happens if we reduce or remove our troops? Unfortunately, the combatants...the ones waging the war about the war...endeavor to spin the data to their benefit...often ignoring context and relevance. A new article in The New York Times documents the annual troop fatalities and provides a glimpse into this back and forth battle...yet points out the prevailing dilemma that never seems to be answered...how and when will we be able to leave Iraq?

BAGHDAD, Nov. 6 — Six American soldiers were killed in three separate attacks Monday, the military said today, taking the number of deaths this year to 851 and making 2007 the deadliest year of the war for American troops.

The deaths come only a few days after the military announced a steep drop in the rate of American deaths this year. In October, 38 American service members died in Iraq, the third lowest monthly tally since 2003, according to Iraq Casualty Count, a web site that tracks military deaths. November’s total, if the current pace continues, would be higher but still far below the war’s average of 69 American military deaths per month.

Despite the decline, American commanders acknowledged that 2007 will be far deadlier than the second worst year, 2004, when 849 Americans died, many of them in major battles for control of insurgent strongholds like Falluja.

Military officials attribute the rise this year to an expanded troop presence during the so-called surge, which brought more than 165,000 troops to Iraq, and sent units out of large bases and into more dangerous communities.

Commanders maintain that despite the high cost in terms of lives lost, the strategy has brought improved security to the country and “tactical momentum" that could stabilize Iraq permanently.

Now I'm not trying to ignore the latest casualty numbers...they are encouraging and hopefully they will be sustained...but one mustn't ignore what history can tell us to expect. The latest surge has unfolded in much the same way as prior surges. It has brought greater security to Baghdad (the region of focus), reduced the number of IED attacks, and lessened the sectarian violence.

Those are tangible results...but they must be measured against the stated objective of the surge when it was initiated; that being to enable the necessary time and space for political progress to be achieved. Further, one must provide the reasons and the rationale by which we can conclude that this surge will result in sustained progress as opposed to the regression which has typified each of those previously attempted.

In looking strictly at the number of American casualties, there is little reason to believe that the surge has achieved lasting results. The fact that 2007 will be the deadliest year suggests that the problems we have confronted since the fall of the Hussein regime remain formidable and its even possible they have continued unabated. Empirical evidence suggests prior increased troop levels in other unsettled regions brought temporary reductions in the above measurables...only to be followed by rising violence once the troop levels were reduced or focused upon another hot spot (the whack-a-mole phenomenon). That certainly raises doubts as to the permanence of the latest achievements.

At the same time, one has to consider what the enemy has learned from the prior troop surges and how that may have impacted their current strategy. Keep in mind that it would be foolish to presume that their calculations have remained static. If history has taught us anything, it is that these extremists are immensely patient and sufficiently cunning.

Suppose they've concluded it is futile to engage in direct confrontation given the greater number of troops and the focused attention they bring? Suppose they believe that the U.S. cannot or will not maintain the current troop levels and the interests of the insurgency is best served by waiting for the Bush administration to begin troop reductions or to wait for the will of the American people to demand an end to the current level of occupation? Suppose they're convinced...as are many other observers...that the hoped for political progress has not materialized and the dynamics necessary for them to do so is not present and may not emerge any time soon?

To suppose otherwise on each of these points seems at best naive, and at worst fully illogical. That brings us back to speculating on a plausible exit strategy. Two thoughts quickly come to mind. One, there is a possibility that the powers that be are truly committed to a democratic Iraq and are therefore seeking an exit that insures as much. Two, there is a possibility that the powers that be have concluded that a democratic Iraq is unattainable and are therefore looking for a window of opportunity to claim success and hastily head for home.

If one buys into the former, then one ought to expect a prolonged presence, an abundance of good luck, and a healthy dose of transformational magic. If one favors the latter, then one ought to expect a politically expedient timeframe for announcing an exit, an abundance of contrivance, and a sickening amount of obfuscatory manipulation.

As I review the choices, this seems to be one of those moments when being between a rock and a hard place actually sounds like a better place to be than where we're at. Its hard to imagine that an idiomatic location is more appealing than reality...but then doesn't that simply illuminate the degree to which our perpetual presence in Iraq baffles the mind?


1 On November 6, 2007 at 4:39 PM, Jeff wrote —

You might be interested in the Wounded Warriors Project. It's a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness for U.S. troops severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. It really puts a face on the cost of this conflict. Here's a link:



Thought Theater at Blogged

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» 2007 Deadliest Year In Iraq: Defining A Successful Surge? from www.buzzflash.net
The Bush apologists point to the reduced troop casualties in October as evidence of success in Iraq. However, in looking at the number of American casualties in 2007, there are good reasons to doubt the lasting benefits of the current surge. Sadly, it ... [Read More]

Tracked on November 6, 2007 2:43 PM

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