Friday, June 13, 2014

Surging Into Disaster

"Surely, comrades, you don't want Jones back?"

It was a rhetorical question asked of the animals, now in control of the Animal Farm, by the pig Squealer, a persuasive orator serving under the leadership of Napoleon.  As expected, it drew no dissent.

Similarly, George F. Will, who had several questions he believed Chuck Hagel should be asked at his Senate hearing for confirmation as Secretary of Defense, asked a most interesting one: "If the surge had not happened, what would have happened in Iraq?"   It was a given that as an opponent of the action, the Nebraskan would have no satisfactory answer.

Senator Hagel had opposed the surge, which everyone at the time- and, oddly, even now- was to have assumed was a success.  A skeptical Will, at least, did not oppose Hagel's nomination.  The same cannot be said of Senator John McCain, who (though he opposed a filibuster) voted against the President's nominee.

At the time, The Huffington Post reported

On Thursday, McCain attempted to re-litigate whether the surge was the right decision, aggressively pressing Hagel on whether he stands by his past statements. He quoted Hagel as saying in 2007 that the surge was the "most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."

"Were you right?" McCain asked. "Were you correct in your assessment?"

"Well, I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out," Hagel said.

"This committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge," McCain responded, adding, "I want to know if you were right or wrong. That's a direct question. I expect a direct answer."

When Hagel continued to insist that the answer was more complicated than a yes or no answer, McCain grew frustrated.

"Will you please answer the question?" McCain said. "Were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would be the 'most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.' Were you correct or incorrect, yes or no?"

Hagel added that his comment about the "most dangerous foreign policy blunder" was not just about the surge, but about the overall decision to invade Iraq -- a belief he stood by because it took the U.S. focus off Afghanistan.

"Our war in Iraq I think was the most fundamentally bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam," Hagel said.

After Hagel was done speaking, McCain said "any casual observer" knows the surge was the "fundamental factor" in turning around the Iraq War, and was "led by two great leaders, Gen. [David] Petraeus and Amb. [Ryan] Crocker."

Even more telling than the support of Will or McCain for the surge, however, was Hagel's letter to Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) following his testimony, in which the nominee wrote in part

In the surge case in Iraq, we lost almost 1,200 dead Americans during that surge, and thousands of wounded," he continued. "Now, was it required? Was it necessary? Sen. McCain has his own opinion on that, shared by others. I'm not sure. I'm not that certain it was required.

Though right about the surge, Hagel was defensive, almost apologetic because, of course, no one was supposed to question its value.  To this day, the central narrative of the Iraq War was that it wasn't worth entering, but at least the USA, making lemons out of lemonade, gained something from the surge.

But additional American and Iraqi lives were lost, and Iraq is no better off now than it would have been otherwise.  The New York Times explains

Sunni militants consolidated and extended their control over northern Iraq on Wednesday, seizing Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, threatening the strategic oil refining town of Baiji and pushing south toward Baghdad, their ultimate target, Iraqi sources said.

As the dimensions of the assault began to become clear, it was evident that a number of militant groups had joined forces, including Baathist military commanders from the Hussein era, whose goal is to rout the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. One of the Baathists, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, was a top military commander and a vice president in the Hussein government and one of the few prominent Baathists to evade capture by the Americans throughout the occupation.

“These groups were unified by the same goal, which is getting rid of this sectarian government, ending this corrupt army and negotiating to form the Sunni Region,” said Abu Karam, a senior Baathist leader and a former high-ranking army officer, who said planning for the offensive had begun two years ago. “The decisive battle will be in northern Baghdad. These groups will not stop in Tikrit and will keep moving toward Baghdad.”

The sudden successes of the militant forces sent hundreds of thousands of people running, some literally, from the new outbursts of violence, panicked leaders in Turkey and Syria and revived memories of bloody American struggles to wrest the same places — Mosul and Tikrit — from jihadist fighters a decade ago.

By late Wednesday, the Sunni militants, many aligned with the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, were battling loyalist forces at the northern entrance to the city of Samarra, about 70 miles north of Baghdad. The city is known for a sacred Shiite shrine that was bombed in 2006, during the height of the American-led occupation, touching off a sectarian civil war between the Sunni minority and Shiite majority.

Militant commanders were reportedly threatening to destroy the shrine if its defenders refused to lay down their arms, while hundreds of Shiite fighters were said to be heading north from Baghdad to confront the attackers.

As Iraqi government forces crumbled in disarray before the assault, there was speculation that they may have been ordered by their superiors to give up without a fight. One local commander in Salahuddin Province, where Tikrit is located, said in an interview Wednesday: “We received phone calls from high-ranking commanders asking us to give up. I questioned them on this, and they said, ‘This is an order.’ ”

"History has already made a judgement about the surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it," Senator McCain told Chuck Hagel, as can be seen in the video below.  Unfortunately, McCain was half right: history has made its judgement and John McCain, and other true believers, were wrong.

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