by Brandon Friedman

(Posted first at Vet Voice  and reposted here with permission.)

When a mortar landed just outside Tikrit on Thursday, the round killed one American soldier and wounded another.  We still don’t know their names.  Yet despite all the cheering we’ve heard about the success of the surge recently, this death made January the deadliest month for Americans in Iraq since September.  Let that sink in.

When 39 Americans are killed in January at the highest rate since September (which marked the end of the single bloodiest period to date in Iraq) we cannot say things are improving.  Call it a spike, call it a bump, call it whatever you want: Just don’t call it success.  The bottom line is that despite what the chickenhawk pundits and politicians are saying about the surge, American troop deaths are up 70 percent from December to January.

To further highlight the fact that the success of the surge is largely a myth, two explosions rocked Baghdad today, killing over 70 people in the deadliest bombing in the capital since last summer.  From the AP:

Remote-controlled explosives strapped to two mentally handicapped women detonated in a coordinated attack on pet bazaars Friday, police and Iraqi officials said, killing at least 73 people in the deadliest day since the U.S. sent 30,000 extra troops to the capital this spring.

Unfortunately, this violence is occurring beneath the shadow of Moqtada al Sadr–as Iraq awaits his decision on whether or not to declare an end to his ceasefire with American troops and Sunni militias.  And despite what American commanders are saying publicly, influential members of the Mahdi Army are urging Sadr to end the ceasefire.  Should that happen, violence would literally explode across central Iraq.

Therefore, given this significant rise in violence, coupled with the perpetual uncertainty that hangs over Iraq, I’ve come up with a list of people, along with some key statements they’ve made in the last month–the deadliest month for American troops since last summer.  It’s called:

The List of People Who Are in the Process of Making Premature, Ignorant Statements about the Success of the Surge

Bill O’Reilly, January 2, 2008:

“Unresolved problem” segment tonight, by all accounts, the security situation in Iraq has improved drastically in just a few months. The surge by American troops has worked.”

When Bill says, “by all accounts,” he really means by all accounts that don’t figure in the upcoming American casualty rate, major terrorist attacks on the horizon, and those that wrongly predict the future.

Frederick W. Kagan, Jack Keane, and Michael O’Hanlon, January 18, 2008:

The full surge has been in place and operating for just over six months, and already violence has fallen dramatically across the country. The achievement in such a short time of significant legislation that requires all sides to accept risk and compromise with people they had been fighting only a few months ago is remarkable.

Well, Kagan’s been ahead of himself for years now, but that’s understandable when a Napoleonic historian tries to tackle modern Middle Eastern problems.  And O’Hanlon jumps the gun because he thinks he’s an expert after spending a few days on the ground in Iraq.  That often happens to highly educated, but inexperienced people when they try to untangle guerrilla war in Arab countries.  As for Keane, well. . .I would’ve expected more from him.  Oh well.

Kimberly Kagan, January 26, 2008:

The Iraq debate in 2007 focused on whether the new strategy and troop increase could stem violence in Iraq. It did.

It did?  That’s probably news to the men and women serving in Diyalah.  It’s probably also news to the Iraqi Army units attempting to quell the violence in Mosul this week.  Jeez.  This is another chickenhawk Kagan (wife of Frederick) who knows absolutely nothing about the fighting in Iraq, and yet still tries to offer advice to the commanders on the ground.

Max Boot, January 27, 2008:

This is a position so utterly disconnected from the on-the-ground reality I discovered in Iraq during a recent 11-day visit that it boggles the mind. The ability of our forces to rout Al Qaeda during the past year was due precisely to abandoning the Special Forces-centric approach we had utilized in the past.

Routing al Qaeda during the past year?  Hey buddy, last year was the deadliest of the war for Americans.  And the American death rate was higher in January than in any month since September.  We can do without the chickenhawkish self-congratulation, desk jockey.

Fareed Zakaria, January 28, 2008:

The Democrats are having the hardest time with the new reality. Every candidate is committed to “ending the war” and bringing our troops back home. The trouble is, the war has largely ended, and precisely because our troops are in the middle of it.

I love this one from Zakaria: “The war has largely ended.”  That doesn’t even merit a response.  The troops in theater hate guys like this.

George W. Bush, January 28, 2008:

While the enemy is still dangerous and more work remains, the American and Iraqi surges have achieved results few of us could have imagined just one year ago. (Applause.) When we met last year, many said that containing the violence was impossible. A year later, high profile terrorist attacks are down, civilian deaths are down, sectarian killings are down.

Right.  Until now.  This is nothing we haven’t heard dozens of times in the past.  We’re about to turn that corner.  Last throes.  Unimaginable success.  Same stuff.

David Ignatius, January 29, 2008:

Progress here is undeniable, both in terms of security on the ground and in the political bargaining among Iraq’s parties and ethnic groups. You see this on the streets, in the faces of people you meet in shops and teahouses.

Do you see it in the torn bodies and bloodied sandals that littered Baghdad’s streets this morning, David?


And finally, though he hasn’t said it in the past month (as far as I know), I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring John McCain into this for his series of remarks:

John McCain, November 2007:

“We can win in Iraq, and we are winning in Iraq,” he told voters crammed into Hudson’s Smokehouse on this rainy Carolina Monday. “The surge is working and Baghdad is better off for it.”

Keep in mind that McCain said exactly the same thing exactly four years earlier:

John McCain, November 2003:

We are winning in Iraq, but we sow the seeds of our own failure by contemplating a premature military drawdown and tempering our ambitions to democratize Iraqi politics.


The bottom line, as I’ve said before, is that the violence in Iraq is cyclical, and will remain so until we leave.  Anyone who tells you otherwise–anyone who tries to sell you a “surge” as the solution to all your problems, for instance–is full of garbage.

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Larry C. Johnson is a former analyst at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, who moved subsequently in 1989 to the U.S. Department of State, where he served four years as the deputy director for transportation security, antiterrorism assistance training, and special operations in the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism. He left government service in October 1993 and set up a consulting business. He currently is the co-owner and CEO of BERG Associates, LLC (Business Exposure Reduction Group) and is an expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, and crisis and risk management, and money laundering investigations. Johnson is the founder and main author of No Quarter, a weblog that addresses issues of terrorism and intelligence and politics. NoQuarterUSA was nominated as Best Political Blog of 2008.
  • Mr.Murder

    Al Qaeda itself is now a small element of the overall picture. Operationally so, they still pose great symbolic value to the strategic perception of the role terror plays, in the Muslim crescent and beyond.

    High profile terror attacks are down only because legitmate Al Qaeda operations are cyclical in nature.

    Low profile terror is everywhere now and we have fanned the fire. This saps focus on the group most likely to damage our allies.

    That’s not the only item. The man we should have tried to co-opt, and at one time probably did when he was resistance to Saddam internally, Moqtada Al Sadr, could at any moment light a fuse.

    There’s a damned good chance he’s found ways to establish influence beyond the region, via copycat groups, to run parallel attrition efforts. They just await inspiration, and we can’t even act against him at this time for fear of making him a martyr.

    Think of one person’s statement becoming a regional trigger for retaliation, with groups like Hamas joining the effort in a way that overloads our capacity to watch over things. Al Qaeda doesn’t even need to say anything, the only time they do now is when Bush is needing a ratings spike, odd that.

    Suddenly Israel, Arabia, and Syria see new spikes and any one group’s reaction to the threat could invite retaliation or be considered justifaction for further tresspass in the name of pre-emption.

    Al Qaeda recruits its main assets from the ranks of the educated, even the affluent, the kind of people we have made refugees or dissidents, in these ambitious fireworks displays of empire.

    So, people seeing the plight of those persons suddenly become hardened to the idea of assimilation, and that resistance drags down the high flying aspirations of playing cowboy diplomacy.

    By static, by drag on the winds of perception, we’re weakened and diminished in our ability to fight the opponent. This erosion wears at the effectiveness of any policy and intensifies the odds of collateral damage.

  • Ron Cowin

    And not one word about what the alleged surge was supposed to accomplish. A space for Iraqi sunni and shi’ite compromise. One hears nothing about the Iraqi Army or milita or government. Do they exist? Are they functioning? No matter how long the Bush/Cheney/McCair/Neocon Clique want us to stay there, it is and will still depend on the Iraqis to determine their own fate. Meanwhile by eliminating a Sunni buffer between Iran and the Saudi Peninsula, we could have destabilized the Middle East for quite a while. Now the decider-in-chief with the Messiah Complex, has moved on to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has pledged a Palestinian State before he leaves office. Does he know that he is out on January 20, 2009?

  • Ken Hoop

    I would not trust anyone in America to get our troops out except Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich,the various components of the neocon/neolib ruling elite being both corrupt and cowardly. Those who will get our troops out slowly but surely are the Iraqi insurgents.

  • Aren’t there always lag times between the truth happening, the truth getting noticed by the wide awake, the truth getting reported by the diligent, the truth filtering through to the interested, the truth getting admitted by the recalcitrant, and the truth finally filtering down to the otherwise opinionated?

  • Delia

    Fareed Zakaria, January 28, 2008:

    The Democrats are having the hardest time with the new reality. Every candidate is committed to “ending the war” and bringing our troops back home. The trouble is, the war has largely ended, and precisely because our troops are in the middle of it.

    Of course anyone who was only mildly sane was waiting for the new uptick in violence. But when I read this lovely bite, I flashed on an image of Zakaria sitting at a table with a bib tied around his neck with a huge bowl of stewed Newsweeks in front of him, and a whole bunch of us (you know, the sane people who always knew this surge thing was going to blow up), and we’re force-feeding him the pages of the magazine, literally making him eat his words.

    And that’s about all I can say at the moment. The brutal absurdity of our whole situation is just too overwhelming.

  • Fred C. Dobbs

    Any of these pundits/experts (except McCain) ever experience the exhilartion of actually being shot at and surviving? The Enlightenment of watching friends and comerades beubg rent suddenly asunder close aboard?

    One’s POV depends upon one’s experience.

    Most of the bloviating on this war is done by those whose experience in these matters is, to put it most charitably, “thin.”

    It puts me in mind of being lectured about sex by a nine year-old boy.

  • Rob G. in Chicago

    And I heard reports from the Obama “camp” that Hillary jumped up to join the applause line at the State of the Union (SOTU)address this past week .. OUCH! I couldn’t watch the SOTU speech (anger management therapy), but hearing that Hillary applauded the part of the speech where Bush asserted that the “surge” had worked certainly evoked a grimace.I hope that what I had heard was a myth, and I’m glad to see that she did not make any such assertion at the debate last night.