Official Washington loves the story – the Iraq War was failing until President George W. Bush bravely ordered a “surge” in 2007 that won the war, but President Obama squandered the victory, requiring a new “surge” now. Except the narrative is dangerous make-believe.
As American politicians and editorial writers resume their tough talk about sending more U.S. troops into Iraq, they are resurrecting the “successful surge” myth, the claim that President George W. Bush’s dispatch of 30,000 more soldiers in 2007 somehow “won” the war – a storyline that is beloved by the neocons because it somewhat lets them off the hook for starting the disaster in the first place.
But just because Official Washington embraces a narrative doesn’t make it true. Bush’s “surge” was, in reality, a dismal — an unconscionable — failure. It did not achieve its ostensible aim — the rationale Bush eventually decided to give it — namely, to buy time for Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites to reconcile.
Rather, it did just the opposite, greatly exacerbating antagonisms between them. That result was clearly predicted before the “surge” by none other than Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, top U.S. military leaders, and even the Washington Establishment-heavy Iraq Study Group, all of which were pressing for less — not more — military involvement.
In one very important sense, however, the “surge” into Iraq was wildly successful in achieving what was almost certainly its primary aim. It bought President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney a “decent interval” so they could leave office without an explicit military defeat sullying their legacy – and for the “acceptable” price of “only” 1,000 more U.S. dead.