The surge in Iraq worked. No, not in the conventional sense, but in a political sense. Strategically, it was a failure, as Stephen Walt explained in 2009:
The surge had two main goals. The first goal was to bring the level of violence down by increasing U.S. force levels in key areas, forging a tactical alliance with cooperative Sunni groups, and shifting to a counterinsurgency strategy that emphasized population protection. This aspect of the surge succeeded, though it is still hard to know how much of the progress was due to increased force levels and improved tactics and how much was due to other developments, such as the prior “ethnic cleansing” that had separated the contending groups.
The second and equally important goal was to promote political reconciliation among the competing factions in Iraq. This goal was not achieved, and the consequences of that failure are increasingly apparent. What lies ahead is a long-delayed test of strength between the various contending groups, until a new formula for allocating political power emerges. That formula has been missing since before the United States invaded — that is, Washington never had a plausible plan for reconstructing a workable Iraqi state once it dismantled Saddam’s regime — and it will be up to the Iraqi people to work it out amongst themselves. It won’t be pretty.
In the last six years, it has become even less pretty, rather downright ugly. But, the surge has been a tremendous success politically. So effective has promulgation of the surge myth been that even Barack Obama, opponent of the Iraq War when he was a state senator and had no responsibility for foreign affairs, told Bill O'Reilly in 2008 "I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated.... I've already said it succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."
Politico reports that John Ellis Bush (working on his 36th revised remarks about Iraq) "maintained that ISIS has spread because of Obama’s decision not to maintain more of a military presence in Iraq and criticized his decision not to keep between 8-10,000 troops there, instead of the 3,000 now on the ground." John Ellis, with George Walker as a foreign policy adviser, is significantly exposed on the war. However, a less vulnerable Scott Walker, the leader in Iowa poll(s), similarly now claims (on his Facebook page)
Any president would have likely taken the same action President Bush did with the information he had, even Hillary Clinton voted for it, but knowing what we know now, we should not have gone into Iraq. President Bush deserves enormous credit for ordering the surge, a courageous move that worked.
Unfortunately, President Obama and Secretary Clinton hastily withdrew our troops, threw away the gains of the surge, and embarked on a broader policy of pivoting away from the Middle East and leading from behind that has created chaos in the region.
The GOP learned, quickly, following John E. Bush's fumbling of the issue last week. Few if any Democratic politicians have bothered to speak the truth about the surge and it may come back to haunt them. Instead of biting the bullet by recognizing defeat and withdrawing the American soldiers from Iraq, President Bush delayed the day of reckoning . The genius of the surge was that, in Walt's words, it was "a well-intentioned attempt to staunch the violence temporarily and let President Bush hand the problem off to his successor. "
Whereupon Barack Obama took the easy way out and praised the surge, perhaps to establish foreign policy gravitas, or to appear bipartisan, or to avoid an argument with O'Reilly. But Democrats, beware: circa 1952, the myth was that another Democratic President, Harry S. Truman, "lost China." Walker has given fair warning that the GOP foreign policy theme in 2016 will be "Obama lost China" or the "Obama-Clinton Administration" lost Iraq. It is historically inaccurate, but that probably won't matter; the groundwork has been laid. Thanks, Barack.