Not Quite, Mr. Obey

Even though Rep. David Obey is currently one of my heroes for sticking to his guns on refusing to allow any funding of the Iraq War to continue without significant changes to the overall strategy, it’s still important to call the man out when he’s not exactly right.

The error comes when he was challenged on Republican claims that the “surge” is working, as evidenced by the fact that violence in Iraq has decreased dramatically.  Obey’s answer is that, perhaps, the terrorists are “running out of people to kill”, which is indeed a bleak assessment, but also a false one.

Don’t take this to mean that I’m all of a sudden about to jump up and down and start championing the virtues of the “surge” strategy.  Just as David Obey’s declaration that the reduction in the number of targets is wrong, so to is the belief that the “surge” had anything whatsoever to do with the reduction in violence.  Let this stand as a lesson; for many of us who continue to oppose the US presence in Iraq, it is mischaracterizations such as this, placed upon political and not tactical or factual foundations, that fuel our fervor.

Failures to see and understand the situation as they actually exist have resulted in the debacle that is Iraq, and the myth that the “surge” is actually working is just another link in that chain.  And part of this weak link can be directly tied to the Administrations continued willful mischaracterization of the make up of the threats that exist in Iraq.

al Qaeda has taken much of the blame when it comes to Iraq.  First there was the original al Qaeda headed by Osama bin Laden that helped get us into this debacle of the war, and was used in conflation by nearly every war supporter since its onset.  Then came al Qaeda in Iraq, neither an offshoot nor a spinoff, but best characterized as an upstart; a terrorism franchise could be one way to look at it.

Since AQI came into being, it has consistently failed to rank as the chief threat in the country of Iraq, but the political significance of its name alone has resulted in the Administration falsely advertizing the organization as the single greatest enemy we face in the country we currently occupy.

Among other things, what this has done has minimized the focus and political significance of one of the largest real threats in Iraq; Mouqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi army.  While we worked hard to stand up a largely Shia government, this fundamentalist Shiite faction has served as one of the greatest enemies to US troops in Iraq, and simply trying to sweep them under the rug politically cannot change this fact.

And so, while Republicans and war supporters look to the reduction in violence and call it a clear example of how the “surge” is an unquestionable success, what is ignored is perhaps the actual cause of violence in Iraq; a cease fire called for by Mouqtada al Sadr back in August.

In response to the deaths of fifty Muslim pilgrims in Karbala, Mouqtada had ordered a suspension of Mahdi army operations for a period of six months.  This had, nothing to do with the US and its ally(ies), and everything to do with the Iraqi people.  Indeed, I think it reasonable to assume that if the US was directly responsible for the killings, we would have seen a rapid increase in troop deaths.

But that’s the storyline, the one that is not quite so generous to Bush’s “surge”.

The most obvious rebuttal, it would seem, is that peace is peace, and why look a gift horse in the mouth?  The answer to that is simple.  If we are where we are because of politically convenient mischaracterizations of evidence, then it logically goes to show that nothing good can come of such things.  Saying the “surge” is working yet again blinds the administration to the facts on the ground, and thusly makes it ill-equipped to cope with adversity when it breaks through the fabricated picture offered.

Here, the “surge” illusion creates a picture of unthreatened progress, that the biggest threat to the drop in violence would be the pulling out of US troops.  But the more realistic picture is one where the so called progress is fixed upon the shoulders of a six month long cease fire by one of the biggest threats in Iraq.   While anything can happen in those six months, one cannot be allowed to forget that three months from now, Mouqtada al Sadr’s order expires, and from there, all hell very well may break loose.

I wonder how many people will then be willing to claim that the “surge” was a stunning success.

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