I am so tired of seeing repeated references to how the surge of troops in Iraq has been a success. I expect to hear this from the Bush administration and its supporters. I am surprised, however, by how much this illogical framing has been accepted by the mainstream media.
The problem begins with the definition of success. The Bush White House wants success to be equated to a reduction in violence. Looked at from this narrow perspective, a case could be made for the surge being a success. As far as I can tell, the overall level of violence in Iraq is currently down (although whether or not the surge deserves all the credit for this is less clear).
However, by itself, this reduction means practically nothing in terms of how we should truly measure the success of the surge. If you keep adding more and more U.S. troops to a battle zone, of course you expect to see a reduction in violence eventually. The real surprise would be if we kept increasing our troop level but never saw any effect at all.
A more accurate measure of success would require looking at how far the level of violence has fallen and how sustainable that level is. On these measures, the surge does not appear to be doing well at all.
The level of violence is still nowhere near a peacetime level. And we still have not begun to reduce our troop levels significantly. In fact, I believe levels are still higher than before the surge started. Does this mean that we have to maintain our current troop levels in order to maintain this “success”? If so, it’s is hardly what I would call a success.
A success is when you can send your troops home. A success is when you have an Iraqi government that can take care of its own security. So far, I have seen no sign that this is happening. Even vocal opponents of the war agree that it will likely be years before most of our troops are out of Iraq (it will likely be decades, if ever, before they are entirely out). This is not evidence of a success. Rather, it is evidence of how much we have messed things up.
One more thing: No matter what happens in Iraq from this day forward, it can never erase the failures and lies of the past.
This was a war that was started against a country who had not attacked us and had shown no signs of doing so. It was based largely on a claim that Iraq was in possession of WMD—a claim that turned out to be completely false. The claim that Al-qaeda and Sadam Hussein were working together, another justification for the war, also was completely false. Instead of continuing our focus in Afghanistan, where we were fighting Al-qaeda, we were diverted to a country where Al-qaeda wasn’t—and we our now doing rather poorly in both countries.
We were promised a short war that would largely pay for itself. We instead got a long war—lasting 5 years and counting—that is costing us trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.
Iraq-related incidents revolving around Abu Ghahib, Guantanamo, and waterboarding have further sullied our reputation and moral standing in the world community.
Finally, there are all the negative side-stories that have emerged over the years: the Blackhawk scandal, the Valerie Plame outing, the Pat Tillman coverup, the Walter Reed Hospital conditions, the illegal wire-tapping, the elimination of habeas corpus for terrorist suspects, and more.
It is outrageous to think that a slight reduction in violence, possibly linked to our increase in troop levels (levels that show no sign of significantly decreasing), could be used to justify all of these past lies and abuses.
No matter what happens in the future, our decision to invade Iraq will always remain the wrong thing to have done. There is no way that this failure in leadership can ever be considered a success.