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The Iraq War and the Mythology of the “Surge”

The "surge" failed on its own terms.
iraq war surge soldiers 2007

Peter Beinart comments on the function of Iraq “surge” mythology in Republican foreign policy debate:

For today’s GOP leaders, this story line has squelched the doubts about the Iraq invasion that a decade ago threatened to transform conservative foreign policy.

The “surge” mythology began as the lie that war supporters from both parties told themselves and the public so that withdrawal from Iraq would seem more palatable. The fiction was that the “surge” had salvaged the U.S. effort in Iraq and produced a triumph out of disaster. This was psychologically and politically more agreeable for many people than admitting deep, ongoing failure, and so it became a piece of conventional wisdom that skeptics of the “surge” had been wrong to doubt it. The mythology is responsible for the hawkish delusion that the Iraq war had been “won” before Obama “lost” it, which gave war supporters an excuse to evade accountability for the catastrophic blunder of the invasion and occupation by invoking the “surge” that saved the day.

It is worth remembering that the “surge” failed on its own terms, just as critics of the escalation expected that it would when it was first proposed. As Beinart reminds us, and I have said many times, the stated political goals of the “surge” were never achieved, and indeed were never likely to be achieved. For supporters of the “surge,” this is almost beside the point. Just as they never want the Iraq war as a whole to be judged by what it produced (i.e., regional instability, increased violence and terrorism, 100,000+ dead, millions displaced, massive suffering, etc.), they aren’t interested in having the “surge” judged by what it did or by what it was supposed to do, but prefer to credit it with things caused by other factors that they can then lump together as proof that “the surge worked.” Hawks need to be able to point to an example where “decisive” military action made a dramatic, positive difference in order to back up their next call for similar action in the future, and so they keep clinging to the mythology of the “surge” for lack of any other recent examples.