"The Surge is Working - the Surge is Working" is the rallying cry that has begun to buzz louder and louder among the Bush's right-wing supporters as reports continue of decreased violence in the Al-Anbar province of Iraq.
One would think so, but is it the beginning of trend, the result of some good luck and positive circumstances or simply a shifting of the battle-front to other areas?
And more importantly : what, if anything, does this bode for the continuing political meltdown in Iraq?
Speaking on CNN two Democratic Senators, Dick Durbin and Bob Casey, decided to spend their August vacation in Iraq and find out exactly what really going on down there.
They stated, to the delight and glee of the right-wing, that our "troops are making progress".
Red State: "Well, lo and behold, Democratic Senators Durbin (the #2 ranking Democrat in the Senate) and Casey, after actually visiting Iraq, now admit that the surge is, in fact, making precisely the military progress that Senator Reid declared to be impossible."
Power Line: Some Democrats have noticed that the "surge" is producing results on the ground in Iraq
National Review: Dick Durbin says the surge is "making real progress"
But unfortunately for the wingers, that's not all they said.
There were two important parts of this story, the military part as Senator [Bob] Casey said, where men and women were doing their best and making real progress. [...]
But I have to tell you there’s another side to this story...As we are seeing military progress, the political scene is very discouraging. We are seeing this al Maliki government, which was once branded the government of unity, coming apart. We see Shia’s leaving, Sunnis walking out. It’s not the kind of promise that we want in terms of bringing stability to this country.
We have to recall that the entire point of the surge wasn't to provide stability in Al-Anbar, it was to establish stability in Baghdad and give the Iraqi Parliament some "breathing room."
According to the White House's Fact Sheet on the New Strategy from this past April.
- The New Strategy Recognizes That Our Top Priority Must Be To Help Iraq’s Leaders Secure Their Population, Especially In Baghdad. Until the Iraqi people have a basic measure of security, they will not be able to make political and economic progress.
- Baghdad Was The Site Of Most Of The Sectarian Violence In Iraq And Is The Destination For Most Of Our Reinforcements. Three additional American brigades have reached the Iraqi capital, while another is in Kuwait preparing to deploy to Iraq and one more will arrive next month.
It can and has been successfully argued that violence in Anbar is indeed down significantly according to Military experts on the ground.
Speaking from Iraq via satellite, Major General Walter Gaskin made the type of absolute statements most commanders try to avoid. "I believe we have turned the corner," he said.
To support his view, General Gaskin said there were 98 violent incidents in al-Anbar Province during the past week, compared to more than 400 during the same week a year ago. He showed a chart, indicating that is part of a new trend in the province, and he credited local leaders for making decisions and taking actions to oppose terrorists and support the Iraqi government and coalition forces. "This is a stark departure from historic norms. Something significant has changed from previous years. We have broken the cycle of violence," he said.
Despite these encouraging claims the overall level of violence remains high. Despite a momentary dip in June to as I mentioned earlier this week in response to the Yearlykos Sgt.
the(Iraqi) casualty count went down from 1,941 the previous month to a measly 1,251 in June. The unfortunate fact is that in July they went back up again to 1,621. You can call that "progress" if you consider doing the hokey-pokey (2 steps forward, one step back) to be "progress."
And some indications are that the body count may continue to rise in August.
"Four U.S. military personnel and a British soldier have been killed in attacks [in Iraq], military officials said yesterday, raising the number of U.S. deaths in August to 19 in a possible sign that extremists are regrouping after a decline in U.S. casualties last month."
The question then is, if the violence in Anbar is down so greatly - why haven't we seen that drop reflected in the overall death toll across the country? Could it be that the insurgency and sectarian strife haven't been quelled, it's simply moved somewhere else - like - Baghdad?
But U.S. commanders say that rogue Shiite militias have stepped into the gap left as Sunni insurgents have been pushed back, and are now responsible for most attacks on Americans in Baghdad and surrounding districts. Such a trend would elevate fears that Iraqi forces are not yet able to maintain security even when insurgents are beaten back. Large numbers of Iraqi police are believed also to hold allegiances to Shiite militia groups.
The spike in deaths comes as the overall number of U.S. troops in Iraq has temporarily peaked at its all-time high - nearly 162,000 - as new units arrive to replace those on the way out, the Pentagon said.
U.S. officials also have warned that militants might try for spectacular attacks before a high-level military and diplomatic assessment in September on U.S. strategies in Iraq and what’s needed in the months ahead.
There is also the arguement that the strategy used to achieve success in Anbar may be undermining the Iraqi Government and fueling the battle elsewhere.
On Anderson Cooper’s show later in the evening, CNN Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware, who spoke live on a night scope camera while embedded with troops responded to "the vice president’s evaluation" of progress in Iraq, calling it "sleight of hand." "Yeah, sectarian violence is down, but let’s have a look at that," said Ware. "More than two million people have fled this country. 50,000 are still fleeing every month, according to the United Nations. So there’s less people to be killed. And those who stay, increasingly are in ethnically-cleansed neighborhoods. They’ve been segregated."
Ware also responded to Brookings Institution analysts Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack’s recent New York Times op-ed offering a sunny appraisal of progress in Iraq, calling the report "very one dimensional." "It doesn’t look at what’s been done to achieve this and what long term sustainability there is," said Ware. "I mean, these guys unfortunately were only in the country for eight days."
In order to achieve the small victories that O’Hanlon and Pollack cherry-picked for their column, America is actually undermining the Iraqi government, according to Ware. "What America needs to come clean about is that it’s achieving these successes by cutting deals, primarily, with its enemies," he said.
"By achieving these successes, America is building Sunni militias," said Ware. "Yes, they’re targeting al Qaeda, but these are also anti-government forces opposed to the very government that America created."
Even Defense Secretary Gates is not exactly sounding optimistic.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates acknowledged Thursday that the Bush administration underestimated the difficulty of getting a political truce in Iraq, where Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s government has been crippled by a walkout by Sunni Arab ministers.
And the Bush Admin's confidence in Maliki to "get 'er done" seems to be waning.
Iraq’s political crisis is worsening as Sunni ministers have completely abandoned the government. Allegations have long persisted about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s connections to Shiite militias, and regime is quickly crumbling from a lack of political effectiveness.
QUESTION: But do you think — you’re not as vested in most places like you are in Iraq. So are you still confident in al- Maliki’s leadership?
MCCORMACK: Look, there’s a lot at stake, absolutely, for the Iraqi people, for the future of the Middle East. And Prime Minister Maliki is the person that was elected by the Iraqi people to lead Iraq. And we’re working closely with him. [...]
QUESTION: It’s kind of conspicuous that you’re not willing to say that you’re confident in him, even if you’re standing by his side.
MCCORMACK: You know, again, it’s not a matter of getting the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval from the United States government or any other government. Ultimately, this government has to act on behalf of the Iraqi people.
Without a quorum, the Iraqi government isn't going to decide anything, period. So how long are our soldiers supposed to stand around getting shot and bombed in the meantime with their thumbs up their asses?
Although there may have been some transitory successes in Anbar, the real goal of the surge which is to help stabilize the entire nation remains a very long - long - way off.
It is often said that those of us on the center/left have such a hatred of Bush that we will refuse to admit anything positive that he's done or accomplished. As O'Reilly last night asked a IVAW representative last night.
Q: If the surge worked, would that be a good thing?
A: That's a very loaded question.
Indeed it is, but I'm willing to state openly that, generally speaking, it's a good thing that violence is down in Al-Anbar.
You hear that O'Reilly!
But It would be a good thing - no, a better thing, to see violence down all over the country. It would be a better thing to see the Iraqi Parliament begin to come together and work for the betterment of their country. It would be a better thing for the Iraqi Military to finally stand up so that we don't have to use Sunni Insurgents as a surrogate police force as we are in Al-Anbar. It would be a better thing to use real diplomacy to have a series of Summit Meetings between Maliki, key Iraqi parliament members, militia leaders and yes, even some insurgent leader who are willing to lay down their arms, to hammer out the broad outlines of an agreement for a cease fire so that both U.S. and Iraqi troops could actually focus on fighting Al-Qaeda - but that isn't likely to happen with this President.
At least, not anytime soon.
Just because we've seen one good thing after five years of this pointless, uneccesary, unprovoked war - doesn't mean any of us should be jumping for joy or doing the Snoopy Dance. Our standards and desperationg for "victory" hasn't sunken that low - not yet.