Is the Surge Working?

Barack Obama is getting plenty of flak for not acknowledging that he was wrong about the "surge," i.e. the wisdom of escalating a war we should never have started in the first place – and this is being compared to John McCain’s stubborn refusal to admit that we need to get out (although it appears McCain isn’t against timetables anymore …). In any case, the whole question of the "surge" is really just another one of those exercises in irrelevance that the American media use to fill the vast void of the cable news universe. As Obama points out, anyone could have predicted that the sudden infusion of large numbers of American troops would reduce violence, albeit temporarily. So where does that leave us?

Well, as reported yesterday (Monday): "87 Iraqis Killed, 288 Wounded." Okay, so that was an unusual day, in which four suicide bombers – all of them, interestingly enough, female – took the opportunity to strike at majority Shi’ite targets, and one Kurdish site in the northern city of Kirkuk. Yet if you examine the pattern of the ongoing conflict – as painstakingly compiled and written up by the invaluable Margaret Griffis – large-scale explosions of violence aren’t all that rare. Indeed, they occur with clock-like regularity, usually a week or two after relative quiet in which the daily toll amounts to two or three Iraqis killed and/or wounded.

Yes, but you have to admit – avers my imaginary interlocutor, the skeptical reader – that the situation on the ground has gotten better.

Well, no, I don’t admit any such thing, because one has to ask: better than what? Better than before the war? Surely not – and that’s the only standard that has real meaning to the Iraqis. More than anything, they want a return to normalcy – and a low-level civil war punctuated by eruptions of shocking violence is anything but normal.

Alright then, my skeptical reader persists, but face facts: the level of violence has been reduced from the bloody chaos of last year. There is no civil war, the Sadrists have retreated, and it’s all because of the surge.

It’s the surge-ists who have to face the fact that ethnic and religious violence in Iraq fluctuates like a flame feeding on underground gases: at times it burns low, and at other times it flares up, but is never quite extinguished. The earth, it seems, has an inexhaustible supply of vapors to ignite these mystic beacons, and Iraq’s sectarian ferment – like Lebanon’s – is similar: perpetually simmering and always threatening to boil over.

The flame is burning low, at the moment, perhaps because the various sectarian groupings have each been driven into their own corners: once mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad, for example, are now exclusively Shi’ite, while, in the Sunni triangle, nary a Shi’ite dares raise his or her head. This marks a lull before the storm, not an endpoint. The sectarian passions unleashed by the fall of the Ba’athist regime are akin to those that bedevil the former Soviet Union in their intractability: US intervention has exacerbated rather than calmed the troubled waters, and rising tensions between the US and Iran have brought them to the surface.

If and when the US leaves Iraq, the American legacy won’t be "democracy," or "liberation" – it will be the so-called Awakening of the Sunni tribes and clans succored by American arms and aid. These groupings are a ticking time bomb that will explode soon after the American presence is reduced significantly, a booby-trap set by the "liberators" to explode in the faces of the "liberated."

The whole aim of the surge has been obscured by the apparent stalling of the rush to confront Tehran, for that was its real purpose, and the real aim of the war itself, which was more war – this time with Iran.

I say apparent stalling because a slowdown is not a breakdown, and it makes good sense for the War Party to lay low at this point. Not that they’re keeping quiet – far from it – but the Bush administration, for its part, is making noises about negotiations, just like they did in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Why, we’ve even announced that we’re re-establishing the American embassy in Tehran. Peace seems to be breaking out all over – and yet, not so fast ….

To begin with, the situation remains very precarious, with hundreds of possible flashpoints of conflict along Iran’s border with Iraq, and an ongoing destabilization campaign carried out by Washington and several covertly-funded terrorist groups, mostly Kurds (Pejak) and al Qaeda-like groupings in the wilder eastern section of the country.

Secondly, think how easy it would be for a "rogue" group of "extremists" to take over the newly-established American embassy in Tehran, for example: we’d be in for a replay of the Iranian hostage crisis. Or how about a replay of the more recent capture of that British Navy patrol, only this time with Americans held captive and paraded before the television cameras?

In short, it would take very little for the War Party to reassert its position of dominance and reprise its all-too-familiar narrative of "war before dishonor." John McCain would jump on this so quickly that it would make the Obama’s head spin – and how, pray tell, would the Hopeful One respond? This is one of those "hypotheticals" that Obama tends to shy away from, but it isn’t hard to imagine he wouldn’t be talking about negotiating with the Iranian leadership.

I have to say, at this point, that the War Party isn’t above engineering just such a provocation: the phrase "War Party" is short-hand for a variegated bunch, including US neoconservatives, the arms industry, Joe Lieberman, and at least one foreign nation – Israel. The Israelis have been urging Washington to attack Iran for months, if not years, and anyone who thinks they wouldn’t dare undertake a false flag operation doesn’t know the story of the Lavon Affair.

The conquest and occupation of Iraq was never about oil, just as it was never about "liberation," "democracy," or any of the other rhetorical flourishes so beloved by the President’s speechwriters. It was and is an attempt to establish a forward base from which to launch further attacks on Muslim nations in the Middle East and Central Asia – and so it remains.

Obama, who is no dummy, never brings this up, because his position on Iran is deliberately vague, and a sore point with his backers and handlers: his antiwar base naturally opposes war with Iran, but his campaign – and, seemingly, he himself – is ambivalent.

On the one hand, Obama wants to negotiate directly with the Iranians – a bold proposal in Washington, which Pat Buchanan accurately describes as "Israeli-occupied territory." On the other hand he keeps talking about "big sticks" and how we can’t rule anything out. Iran, he intones, is "the greatest strategic challenge to the United States in the region in a generation."

Gee, what happened to the threat from al Qaeda, which supposedly has taken over half of Pakistan, at least if we take what Obama and his surrogates say at face value? Remember that, according to Obama, the invasion of Iraq diverted us away from the real threat, embodied by bin Laden and his followers: how come they aren’t "the greatest challenge to the United States in the region in a generation"?

As always, the question of war and peace – of whether we are going to launch an attack on the biggest, most powerful country in the Middle East on Israel’s behalf – is going to be decided, not by conditions on the ground, but by political considerations on the home front.

If neither major presidential candidate is opposed to the War Party’s ultimate aims and purposes, and if the American people have no say and no voice in determining the foreign policy of this country – that is, if things continue as they have been going – then peace is not anywhere on the horizon, and the surge surges forward … all the way to Tehran.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].