Thursday, July 24, 2008

McCain, Obama, and the "Shorthand" of the Surge

Here's John McCormack's comment on McCain and the surge from yesterday morning:

The "surge" ... is often shorthand for both the addition of U.S. troops as well as the adoption of a counterinsurgency strategy.
Debate on this shorthand is currently raging across the left blogosphere.

Matthew Yglesias says, for example:

So John McCain said the surge led to the Anbar Awakening even though the Awakening, in fact, happened before the surge began. So he's ignorant. Or maybe dishonest....

Shawn Brimley
tries to bring common sense to bear on this: "The word "surge" has always been used to as shorthand referring to President Bush's decision to deploy about 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq in early 2007, the first of which did not arrive in Iraq until later in the spring." McCain is arguing, I guess, that "the surge" doesn't refer to the manpower boost more formally termed the "surge of forces" by the military. Instead, "surge" is, perhaps, short for "counterinsurgency."

The main problems here would be that nobody uses "surge" that way...
Well, that's not correct.

Security studies experts do indeed use the term as a "shorthand" for the Bush administration's overall combined military AND political adjustments designed to bring order and progress to the Iraq deployment.

For example, in "
The Price of the Surge," the lead article from the May/June 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs, Steven Simon noted:

In January 2007, President George W. Bush announced a new approach to the war in Iraq. At the time, sectarian and insurgent violence appeared to be spiraling out of control, and Democrats in Washington - newly in control of both houses of Congress - were demanding that the administration start winding down the war. Bush knew he needed to change course, but he refused to, as he put it, "give up the goal of winning." So rather than acquiesce to calls for withdrawal, he decided to ramp up U.S. efforts. With a "surge" in troops, a new emphasis on counterinsurgency strategy, and new commanders overseeing that strategy, Bush declared, the deteriorating situation could be turned around.
Thus, while there are technically discrete elements in the overall approach to strategic adjustment in Iraq, it's generally understoood that reference to the "surge" implies a macro-analytical concept, and the direction of success is evaluated by unpacking the various components in the military/political balance and making additional revisions .

Of course, the whole debate's something of a smokescreen hiding the fundamental issues: Victory in Iraq's impending, and the left forces are out to portray John McCain as a bumbling, fumbling old man, confused about the facts on the ground. This meme combines with a second thrust currently in play on the Iraq debate: that victory in Iraq means American troops can come home, and that Barack Obama's 16-month withdrawal plan is the ticket to "responsibly" ending the deployment.

All of this spin is geared to smothering the fact that Obama's been consistently wrong about the mission in Iraq, and thus his judgement as commander-in-chief is questionable. This strange turn of events sees those who not only opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, but who resisted the initial surge of troops while
endlessly announcing the failure of the increase in troops, as the beneficiaries of the administration's resolve and McCain's forbearance.

The New York Times puts it all in perspective:

Conducting a presidential campaign in the middle of a war is somewhat unusual, and several foreign policy experts lament that a great deal of nuance and thoughtful discussion is lost in the political back-and-forth.

If Mr. McCain found himself criticized for seeming to confuse the chronology of events in Iraq, some analysts said Mr. Obama seemed to be giving too little credit to the surge for improving conditions in Iraq. Mr. Obama, who opposed the Iraq war, said in an interview with “Nightline” on ABC this week that if he had to do it all over again, knowing what he knew now, he would still not support the surge.

Mr. O’Hanlon, of the Brookings Institution, said he did not understand why Mr. Obama seemed to want to debate the success of the surge. “Any human being is reluctant to admit a mistake,” he said, noting that it takes on added risk in a political campaign.

And Anthony H. Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the political debate did not always illuminate the issues very well. “There are times, I think, where maybe we really ought to step back from this semantic horror show, and remember that this is a political campaign, it is posturing,” Mr. Cordesman said. “Would anyone want either presidential candidate to keep any promise they made today if reality was different in January, or in any point afterwards?”
That's it, then.

An unenlightening semantic debate, which is the forte of left-wing partisans, who've consistently opposed most everything geared to success in Iraq and peace for the Iraqi people.

Here's more examples, from the Huffington Post, "
Depends on What the Meaning of the Word 'Is' (Surge) Is," and MyDD, "Depends What The Meaning of "The Surge" Is."

Okay, if ya'll say so...