As I briefly noted yesterday, John McCain is having some trouble with his Iraq messaging. All he wants to say is that everything good in Iraq is a result of his surgerific good judgement and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Yesterday, when asked about Obama’s views on recent progress on Iraq, McCain said Obama didn’t know what he was talking about, because he cited the Anbar Awakening as seperate from the surge.
Kate Couric: Senator McCain, Senator Obama says, while the increased number of US troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias. And says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What’s your response to that?
McCain: I don’t know how you respond to something that is as– such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel McFarlane [phonetic] was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that’s just a matter of history. Thanks to General Petraeus, our leadership, and the sacrifice of brave young Americans. I mean, to deny that their sacrifice didn’t make possible the success of the surge in Iraq, I think, does a great disservice to young men and women who are serving and have sacrificed.
Many people pointed out that this is transparently false, including the fine folks at Democracy Arsenal.
One problem. The surge wasn’t even announced until a few months after the Anbar Awakening. Via Spencer Ackerman, here is Colonel MacFarland explaining the Anbar Awakening to Pam Hess of UPI, on September 29 2006. That would be almost four months before the President even announced the surge. Petraeus wasn’t even in Iraq yet.
With respect to the violence between the Sunnis and the al Qaeda — actually, I would disagree with the assessment that the al Qaeda have the upper hand. That was true earlier this year when some of the sheikhs began to step forward and some of the insurgent groups began to fight against al Qaeda. The insurgent groups, the nationalist groups, were pretty well beaten by al Qaeda.
This is a different phenomena that’s going on right now. I think that it’s not so much the insurgent groups that are fighting al Qaeda, it’s the — well, it used to be the fence-sitters, the tribal leaders, are stepping forward and cooperating with the Iraqi security forces against al Qaeda, and it’s had a very different result. I think al Qaeda has been pushed up against the ropes by this, and now they’re finding themselves trapped between the coalition and ISF on the one side, and the people on the other.
And here is the NY Times talking about the Anbar Awakening back in March 2007.
The formation of the group in September shocked many Sunni Arabs. It was the most public stand anyone in Anbar had taken against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which was founded by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
And here is Colin Kahl in Foreign Affairs
The Awakening began in Anbar Province more than a year before the surge and took off in the summer and fall of 2006 in Ramadi and elsewhere, long before extra U.S. forces started flowing into Iraq in February and March of 2007. Throughout the war, enemy-of-my-enemy logic has driven Sunni decision-making. The Sunnis have seen three “occupiers” as threats: the United States, the Shiites (and their presumed Iranian patrons), and the foreigners and extremists in AQI. Crucial to the Awakening was the reordering of these threats.
But perhaps the most damning assessment of what happened with the Anbar Awakening is from General MacFarland himself.
Why We Succeeded
Clearly, a combination of factors, some of which we may not yet fully understand, contributed to this pivital success. As mentioned before, the enemy overplayed its hand and the people were tired of Al Qaeda. A series of assasinations had elevated younger, more aggressive tribal leaders to positions of influence. A growing concern that the U.S. would leave Iraq and leave the Sunnis defenseless against Al Qaeda and Iranian-supported militias made those younger leaders open to our overtures. Our willingness to adapt our plan based on the advice of the sheiks, our staunch and timely support for them in times of danger and need, and our ability to deliver on our promises convinced them that they could do business with us…
Democracy Arsenal comments that “if you are going to cite a military officer in a political debate, the least you can do is actually make sure you are citing his argument correctly.” However, to me, the meaning of MacFarland’s comments really undercut John McCain.
Why? Because right now John McCain is completely invested in the notion that the surge alone made progress in Iraq possible. Here’s a post from McCain’s blog that, incredibly, accuses Obama of not respecting the troops because he cites things like the Awakening as contributing to success in Iraq.
Is the surge responsible for the dramatic decline in violence in Iraq? Are U.S. troops responsible for the success of the Awakening movement? Are U.S. forces and our Iraqi allies responsible for marginalizing the Shiite militias? Ask Barack Obama or his surrogates, and the answer you’re likely to hear is ‘no.’
As Barack Obama told Terry Moran in explaining his decision to oppose the surge:
“[I] did not anticipate, and I think that this is a fair characterization, the convergence of not only the surge but the Sunni awakening in which a whole host of Sunni tribal leaders decided that they had had enough with Al Qaeda, in the Shii’a community the militias standing down to some degrees. So what you had is a combination of political factors inside of Iraq that then came right at the same time as terrific work by our troops. Had those political factors not occurred, I think that my assessment would have been correct.”
Leave aside the fact that Obama seems to agree with John McCain that the Awakening coincided with the surge, his point is that the success is largely a result of these other “political factors.” That is, it wasn’t U.S. forces that nurtured the Awakening, knocked down the Shiite militias, and brought stability to Iraq, but mysterious and unforeseeable forces beyond our control. It is a transparent dodge for Obama’s own poor judgment in opposing a strategy that has put us on a path to outright victory in Iraq–an outcome Democrats have long said was impossible.The most unseemly aspect of this spin, however, is the necessity of stripping U.S. forces, our Iraqi allies, and American commanders on the ground of any credit in bringing about the massive improvement in Iraqi security, because if they are credited, then the Democrats must also credit John McCain.
The man who helped start the Awakening directly contradicts that claptrap. He says that the Awakening started for two reasons. One, because Al Qaeda in Iraq alienated the local population and turned Sunnis against them. And two, because it looked like the US might leave Iraq. That is exactly what Obama has been saying for some time now. Obama opposed the surge and supported a phased withdrawal because he wanted to put political pressure on the Iraqis, which is exactly what MacFarland said happened. The fear of the US leaving led to the Awakening, which even David Petraeus himself gave the Awakening primary credit for reducing the violence in Iraq.
1) Before you left for Baghdad on this tour, you told Congress there is no military victory in Iraq and that what is needed is a political solution. What is the strongest indication on the ground that the surge is creating the environment needed to achieve a political solution?
There is no question that all of us — Iraqi leaders, as well as Coalition leaders — are frustrated with the slow pace of political solutions. These solutions include fundamental issues that underpin the allocation of resources and power within the Iraqi political state after years of authoritarian rule. It takes time to resolve these issues, however, just as it took the U.S. time to resolve fundamental issues like civil rights (which is similar to de-Ba’athification) or states rights (which is similar to provincial powers).
Nevertheless, there have been some indications of progress. First, we have seen on-the-ground reconciliation among groups that were opposed to the government. The Anbar Awakening is the most prominent, where Sunni Arabs have turned against Al Qaeda and are now being integrated into Iraqi Security Forces. This effort has spread to other areas, as well, such as Baqubah and in locations such as Abu Gharib, Ghaziliyah, and Ameriyah in Baghdad, where local groups have reconciled with the government and the government is in the process of incorporating them into legitimate security organizations.
In short, John McCain doesn’t have a leg to stand on here.