One thing that is implied in so much of the corporate media coverage of Iraq right now is that the presence of US troops has a stabilizing effect on that country. In a way, that’s what the whole debate over the withdrawal of US forces is all about: The suggestion is that had they stayed, things would be better.
This, of course, omits the fact that the presence of US troops in Iraq was a rather significant contributor to the violence there.
But sometimes reporters don’t imply things about the surge–they state them outright. Here’s NBC reporter Richard Engel (NBC Nightly News, 6/18/14):
Iraqis remember all too well the vicious civil war that tore this country apart just a few years ago. It was the American troop surge that kept it from spiraling completely out of control. This time, the US is keeping its distance.
This distorts a few things about the 2007 US troop surge. While it is often labeled a “success,” as I wrote in Extra! (9/08):
The numbers tell a different story. Since February 2007, when the troop escalation started, Iraq coalition deaths have averaged about 2 a day—not much different from the average for the entire war, 2.3 a day, or in the immediate pre-“surge” period, when they averaged 2.4 a day. Some of the highest US death tolls of the war occurred after the escalation was well underway, in the spring of 2007. As for Iraqi civilians, Iraq Body Count (9/3/07) pointed out that “the first six months of 2007 were still the most deadly first six months for civilians of any year since the invasion.”
So Iraq, by many measures, got more violent at the beginning of the surge, not less.
And some argue that whatever progress Iraq may have made after that period had less to do with a troop surge and more to do with targeted operations against key militant groups and the encouragement of the uprisings called the “Sunni Awakening” (Consortium News, 6/19/14). There were other factors that contributed to the eventual reduction in violence: A major Shiite militia announced a cease-fire, and there was what amounted to a de facto ethnic cleansing of some regions of the country.
And some critics of the surge mythology, like Stephen Walt (Foreign Policy, 7/10/09), point out that it was intended to promote political reconciliation, which obviously does not appear to have happened. As Walt observed, “the ‘surge’ should be seen as a well-intentioned attempt to staunch the violence temporarily and let President Bush hand the problem off to his successor.” Which sounds quite a bit like what we’re seeing right now.
Treating “the US troop surge worked” argument as a fact, as Engel is doing, is very dangerous–since it logically suggests that it is only the presence of US troops that can keep Iraq safe. That is a recipe for a never-ending war.