The Entire "Surge Is Working/Not Working" Debate is Bullshit
The latest example of the farce that is our debate on Iraq is the "The Surge Is Working/No It Isn't" argument of the last week. In case you missed it, the Kuwait News Agency (whatever that is) reported last week that U.S. troop deaths were down by 60%. The Kuwait News Agency gave that story directly and exclusively to rightwing hack Matt Drudge; from there it has become the GOP talking point du jour, appearing everywhere from The Economist to a wide variety of stupid right wing blogs. They are arguing, in other words, that the surge is working because U.S. deaths in Iraq are supposedly down--and that Democrats should get in line behind the brilliant Commander-in-Chief.
And what, pray tell, has been the Democratic and Progressive response? That the surge isn't working, because U.S. troop deaths aren't really down, and that Drudge and the Kuwait News Agency are lying. And, as usual, the truth is on our side, while the lies are on theirs. The Drudge/Kuwait News lies are nicely debunked by Will Bunch at Attytood, and even by Kossacks quaoar and R o o k: the Kuwait News Agency is misrepresenting data by only taking a segment of U.S. troop deaths, and claiming it's talking about the whole country.
The problem is that this response--while necessary--is absolutely stupid, and sets the debate squarely on terms favorable to the GOP. We do need, of course, to debunk lies where we see them--but to stop there and assume that we have therefore won the debate is the height of folly. By accepting the GOP's framing on this issue, we have already lost the debate about the surge (new Out-of-Iraq opinion polls notwithstanding)--regardless of which lies we may or may not debunk. The entire debate on the subject is bullshit. That's a bold statement, but it's easy to prove.
The entire debate is bullshit because the success or failure of any "surge" or "escalation" of U.S. forces in Iraq does NOT hinge on the increase or decrease of U.S. deaths in Iraq. It would seem that all sides--Progressive, Democrat, Republican, and Chiliastic Authoritarian Nutcase--have forgotten the very first reason that we ostensibly still have troops in Iraq in the first place: to stabilize Iraq as a sovereign, democratic nation and to get Iraqis to stop killing one another. That is, after all, the reason proffered by weak-kneed Democrats and lying Republicans for the continued presence of U.S. troops.
It is a circular and deeply stupid argument to say that the presence of peacekeeping forces in an area is succeeding because fewer peacekeeping forces are being killed. Think about that one for a second. But it is even more stupid to validate that circular argument by saying that it's wrong because peacekeeping forces are in fact being killed. In this context, both sides have completely missed the point and forgotten what the original objective was in the first place.
In case the point still isn't clear, let's use the visual example of the Pottery Barn Rule. Let's say I deliberately break a jar full of scorpions. Then I call my friends to help me put the jar back together. My friends and I start getting stungs incessantly by the scorpions. My friends get pissed with me for breaking the jar in the first place, and the scorpion stings are frankly starting to swell and cause respiratory failure. So I call in more friends to help out--much to the chagrin of the friends I already have, who say I am abusing my friendships. Later, because we have more hands to push scorpions away, the average number of stings per minute starts to decline. I proclaim victory--while my friends deny it, because they say we're really getting stung at the same rate as before. Meanwhile, every single goddamn person in the room forgot our objective: to put the damn jar back together!
And let me tell you, the jar is still very broken. Iraqi civilians are still dying in droves in an unabated civil war. Just look at the news: Baghdad attacks kill 11 just today, with a massive chlorine gas attack yesterday. It's not working, and it's not getting fixed.
But perhaps worst of all, Democrats are setting themselves up for failure by conceding that a low to nonexistent number of U.S. troop deaths in Iraq would constitute success. On these terms, Bush could maintain permanent bases in Iraq with no troop deaths--and Dems would be forced into silence. Bush could theoretically, if we had the manpower, send 100,000 more troops into Iraq like Shinseki originally wanted--and violence against U.S. troops would doubtless decrease substantially--again forcing Dems into submission, since success has been redefined away from a stable Iraqi society into fewer U.S. troop deaths. Meanwhile, Iraq as a nation would still be as far from self-sustaining and stable as ever before.
The only way we as a party and as a nation can have strayed so obviously and so fundamentally in our debate about this issue is by completely misreading the purpose of our presence in Iraq: most people--even in the progressive blogosphere--still act like we're waging a war, when we're actually engaged in maintaining an occupation. We may be occupying a country in civil war, but it's still an occupation.
In this context, we are using the language of war to describe success or victory. We are talking about body counts; number of U.S. troops dead; number of insurgents dead; territory seized; incursions made. All in the service of nothing--because the objective isn't to kill insurgents or take territory, but to create a stable and functioning country out of Iraq.
And on that count, we are failing miserably--no matter how many or how few brave U.S. soldiers lose their lives pointlessly in the unforgiving sands of Iraq.
It's time, at long last, to actually remember that when we debate the effectiveness of the "surge"/"escalation". That we remember the ostensible reasons for our troops' being in harm's way in the first place. And that we not fall into right-wing rhetorical traps again. And again. And again.
Because it's bullshit.