It’s no secret that the Republican Party has put a high tactical premium on loyalty over the last eight years, engaging it as a key political tool (and bludgeon) to keep party soldiers marching in-step, and to bleed its enemies of legitimacy in the arena of public opinion. While there are obvious doubts that such manipulations will work on the electorate this Nov. 4, they’ve been quite effective in the past.
You can’t stop the Party from trying. It demanded loyalty for President Bush after 9/11 – who could deny the man with the megaphone atop the smoldering debris of the American dream? For Gen. David Petraeus, when it was critical that the Republicans throw water on the post-midterm cry to end the war. Today, the new litmus test is loyalty to an idea. The unflinching, unreflective loyalty to The Surge.
Will it work? Not sure, but it is a fascinating study in GOP mind-meld to watch the tactic employed once again. Not only are party surrogates demanding The Surge be recognized as a success, they are daring Sen. Obama to admit he was wrong for opposing it, suggesting he hasn’t admitted error already out of pride, that he doesn’t have the political nerve or yet, integrity, to say, “hey I made a mistake.”
(It seems that here, they’re confusing Obama with Bush, who for the better part of the Iraq War was loath to admit his leadership was ever at fault for all the mistakes – now laboriously itemized by military historians, analysts and the military itself – made in the post-invasion, much less the insertion of US troops into that country in the first place).
No matter. McCain was out on the stump Friday actually taunting the Democratic candidate about his vote against funding for the surge in 2007, saying “[Obama] actually tried to prevent us from implementing it. He didn’t just advocate defeat, he tried to legislate it.”
Kathleen Parker, writing for RealClearPolitics.com Thursday in a piece called “Pride Clouds Obama’s Vision,” does her best for the team:
Most Americans would have little trouble forgiving Obama for not believing the surge would be effective. It was a gamble, as are all strategies in war. Even with reports on the ground that locals seemed increasingly willing to rise up, there was reason enough by 2007 to doubt the wisdom of America’s commander in chief.
It is less easy to forgive the kind of wrongheaded stubbornness now on display. As recently as July 14, Obama wrote in a New York Times op-ed that “the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true.” He mentioned the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, money spent in Iraq and said that the surge had failed to produce “political accommodation.”
Fine. But the larger, more important point is that the surge was necessary and successful. Those facts outweigh all other considerations past and present. Moreover, a recent U.S. Embassy report stated that 15 of 18 benchmarks set by Congress for Iraq are being met in a “satisfactory” fashion.
Obama has fallen to pride in part because he has bought his own myth. By staking his future on a past of supernatural vision, he has made it difficult to admit human fault. The magic isn’t working anymore. And Obama, the visionary one, can’t even see what everyone else sees: He was wrong.
All other considerations past and present? Are we to believe that reducing the violence of an insurgency that our own government and its surrogates were content to deny until it absolutely, positively couldn’t be ignored any longer, down to the level it should have been in Spring 2003 when in military terms, we should have been doing things right already, neutralizes the fact that we blew apart a country, sent 4 million people from their homes, helped to create a brain drain in which there are hardly any doctors or teachers left in the cities and an unemployment rate that could reach 50 percent depending on who one talks to?
Not to mention that if we had done things right in the first place, thousands of US soldiers and Marines would be alive and full-bodied today, their brains not rattled from IED blasts, their dreams not stalked every night by the ghosts of dead Iraqi children and fallen comrades, their homes not broken and their chances for normal livelihoods more hopeful.
That’s even if one swallows whole the idea that The Surge was solely responsible for stabilizing Iraq in the first place. Obama won’t admit a mistake, because he is a smart guy – capable of understanding that foreign policy analysis can’t be popped out of a cereal box like a plastic decoder ring. He gets that the drop in violence resulted from a convergence of events “on the ground” that had as much to do with paying our former enemies to stop fighting us, the so-called “Anbar Awakening” that started before The Surge and the sectarian cleansing, as it did with the insertion of 30,000 more US troops into Iraq. Plus, Maliki found a way to ensure that his own militia – the Iraqi Army, plus an assist from the the Iranian-backed Badr Brigade –won the war of competing Shia factions in Basra and elsewhere, and Sadr’s milita in Baghdad is still lying low in a likely shrewd political calculation: there are elections (supposedly) coming up, and US soldiers wont be in his neighborhood forever. He thinks.
There are many who can breathe life into this analysis more than I, but the bottom line is this: Obama and his supporters, hell, anyone who is sick of the GOP spin cycle, can make the argument against this latest loyalty test without sounding peevish.
From Juan Cole on Thursday: The troop escalation in and of itself was probably not that consequential. That the troops were used in new ways by Gen. Petraeus was more important. But their main effect was ironic. They calmed Baghdad down by accidentally turning it into a Shiite city, as Shiite as Isfahan or Tehran, and thus a terrain on which the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement could not hope to fight effectively.
It is Obama who has the better argument in this debate, not Senator McCain, who knows almost nothing about Iraq and Iraqis, and overestimates what can be expected of 30,000 US troops in an enormous, complex country.
But the problem for McCain is that it does not matter very much for policy who is right in this debate. Security in Iraq is demonstrably improved, for whatever reason, and the Iraqis want the US out. If things are better, what is the rationale for keeping US troops in Iraq?
Rightly said, and surge proponents like Fred and Kimberly Kagan and Gen. Jack Keane still endeavor to have their bloody cake and to eat it too. Their rationale is simple: the surge worked, the battle has been won, but we cannot leave town lest the whole thing falls apart:
Past patterns suggest those [Iranian-backed] fighters will return to Iraq and attempt to restart attacks against Coalition Forces in time to disrupt Iraqi elections and to affect America’s voting. Their attacks are likely to be more spectacular, but less effective at disrupting Iraqi government and society.
The most serious error would be to withdraw American forces too rapidly. That would strengthen the resolve of both al Qaeda and Iran to persevere in their efforts to disrupt the young Iraqi state and weaken the resolve of those Iraqis, particularly in the Iraqi Security Forces, who are betting their lives on continued American assistance.
Ironically, the Surge Success mantra — which is slowly creeping into familiar “if you are not with us, you are against us” territory — is clouding the fact that violence is still a huge problem in Iraq and politically, the country is still teetering on the edge. Unless you believe, as Kagan & Co. do, “that there have been virtually no sectarian killings recorded for the past 10 weeks.” But then, one merely needs to read the news and see that whether sectarian or Al Qaeda-sponsored (as the Kagan squad pushes), there are plenty of bombings, assassination attempts and attacks on Iraqi security forces still going on to unsettle the place. The Turks are bombing northern Iraq and Diyala is reportedly on the brink.
Politically, the date for provincial elections has still not been ratified. Last week, the Kurds walked out of parliament in ongoing tensions over oil-rich Kirkuk, about the same time that the Sunnis were heralded by cheerleaders back home for ending their own five-week boycott.
Still, on the domestic front, it’s hard to predict whether this latest loyalty trap will spook the Democrats as it has often enough before. Fall into it – admit the glories of The Surge – and risk all credibility for criticizing the occupation. For, as the spin goes, if John McCain was right about the surge, he’s in the best position to determine the future of US involvement in Iraq. Just like Gen. Petraeus – not Congress – ultimately determined the level of troops there in 2007, and George Bush knew best when he invaded Iraq five years ago.
I think Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, long immune to the loyalty play, said it best on his return from touring the Middle East with Obama this week: “Quit talking about, ‘Did the surge work or not work,’ or, ‘Did you vote for this or support this,’” Hagel said Thursday on a conference call with reporters. “Get out of that. We’re done with that. How are we going to project forward?”