Guest blogged by Arlen Parsa of The Daily Background
On January 10th, George W. Bush stood before the nation in a prime-time address and outlined his plan for a so-called "surge" of American troops into Iraq. The explicitly stated purpose of the "surge" was to lower sectarian violence, especially in Baghdad, so that political progress could occur.
"The violence in Iraq --- particularly in Baghdad," Bush admitted, "overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made." The escalation's goal was to cut the level of violence, Bush said, later promising that "If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home."
On May 2nd, Bush reiterated that the goal of his "surge" was to bring down the overall amount of sectarian violence in Iraq, saying "The definition of success as I described is sectarian violence down."
Most Americans now agree that the surge is not achieving its intended goal of lowering violence. A CBS/NYT poll in May found that 76% believed the "surge" was either making the situation in Iraq worse, or having no effect whatsoever. Despite the fact that all the "surged" troops are now in place in Baghdad, the second in command in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno recently conceded that 60% of Baghdad is still out of control.
In the face of a worsening situation in Iraq, military officials have now backed away from the original purpose of the surge-- decreasing the level of violence.
The Washington Post recently noted the strangeness of some recent comments by Joint Chiefs Chair General Peter Pace and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, reporting: "Despite military reports to Congress that use numbers of attacks and overall levels of violence as an important gauge of Iraq's security status, Gates and Pace told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday that violence is not a useful measure of progress."
"It's not about levels of violence," General Pace had said. "It's about progress being made, in fact, in the minds of the Iraqi people, so that they have confidence in their government in the way forward."
Pace's claims that violence in Iraq is not an adequate metric of "surge" success is contradicted not only by official military reports and Bush's initial explanation of the escalation's goals, but more recently by at least one envoy to Iraq. The British newspaper The Telegraph reported last month that a top British official had disclosed to a think-tank "that American commanders had decided that the criteria for the 'success' of the troop surge would be nothing more than a reduction in violence to the level prior to last year's al-Qaeda bombing of the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, which destroyed its golden dome."
That reduction in violence has not occurred.
In late May, secret data from the Iraqi Health Ministry was leaked to the press, indicating that violence was increasing rather than decreasing. A few weeks later, the Pentagon released what was termed "the first comprehensive statistical overview of the new U.S. military strategy in Iraq," formally confirming the increasingly grim situation that the earlier leaked data had signaled.
Unable to demonstrate success in reducing violence, some suspect the Administration is now "moving the goal-posts." Ironically, this may be a case of moving already-moved goal-posts. Some say Bush's definition of success in Iraq changed when he introduced his "surge" policy.
"Success is not, no violence. There are parts of our own country that have got a certain level of violence to it," Bush said in May. "But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives." Earlier, prominent war-supporters, including Bush and Dick Cheney had decried suggestions that US forces in Iraq focus merely on reducing violence in Iraq, instead of political, social and economic indicators of success.
Shortly after Bush announced that the US mission in Iraq was to lower violence in Iraq, rather than to get rid of it entirely, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was once asked what constituted "acceptable level of violence," and was unable to answer, and it remains unclear what Bush meant. What is clear however is that the current situation in Iraq is unacceptable to all parties involved.