The Myth of the Iraqi Surge

We are enduring the fallout today, of the myth that the Iraqi “Surge” was successful…along with the myths surrounding the withdrawal of US forces. These events, lived by the men and women on the ground….have become political memes, myths and talking points…without substance or experience from those who employ them. Having served 15 months in Baghdad during the Surge, I can attest to the sentiments of the author of this article…as well as the whitewashing that continues to this day.

CFR’s three guests — retired Gen. Raymond Odierno, former commander of Multinational Forces in Iraq and now a senior adviser to JPMorgan Chase; Meghan O’Sullivan, former deputy national security adviser under president George W. Bush; and Christopher Kojm, former senior adviser to the Iraq Study Group — had remarkably similar views.

No dissenting voices were included. All three had been enthusiastic promoters of the surge in 2006–2007 and continue to market the myth of its success. While recognizing the unmistakable failure of the post-surge American effort in Iraq, each still firmly believes in the inherent validity of that “strategy.”

I listened for more than an hour waiting for a single dissenting thought. The silence was deafening.


In an orgy of killing in Baghdad and many other cities, the two main sects ethnically cleansed neighborhoods, expelling each other into a series of highly segregated enclaves. The capital, for instance, essentially became a Shiite city. In a sense, the civil war had, momentarily at least, run its course.

In addition, the U.S. military had successfully, though again only temporarily, convinced many previously rebellious Sunni tribes to switch sides in exchange for money, support and help in getting rid of the overly fundamentalist and brutal terror outfit, Al Qaeda in Iraq.

For the time being, AQI seemed to the tribal leaders like a bigger threat than the Shiites in Baghdad. For this, the Sunnis briefly bet on the United States without ever fully trusting or accepting Shiite-Baghdad’s suzerainty. Think of this as a tactical pause — not that the surge’s architects and supporters saw it that way.

America’s man in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, was already in the process of becoming a sectarian strongman, hell-bent on alienating the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities. Even 60,000 or 90,000 more American troops couldn’t have solved that problem because the surge was incapable of addressing, and barely pretended to face, the true conundrum of the invasion and occupation — any American-directed version of Iraqi “democracy” would invariably usher in Shia-majority dominance over a largely synthetic state.

The real question no surge cheerleaders publicly asked, or ask to this day, was whether an invading foreign entity was even capable of imposing an inclusive political settlement there. To assume that the United States could have done so smacks of a faith-based as opposed to reality-based worldview — another version of a deep and abiding belief in American exceptionalism.

From MAJ Danny Sjursen  at War is Boring



Memorial Day and returning to the “Fertile Crescent”

OK….having been there before, the “Crescent” is long past it’s sell-by date for “fertility”. It’s a steaming, fetid morass of faux-humanity.

But nonetheless, I’m returning to Iraq in a few short days. The place that has spawned my nightmares, given birth to my unnatural paranoia, and changed my very soul….will again be my home for six months, this time as a Contractor. I’ll be literally a few miles from the spot I lost my friend, Jim Doster.

The only upside is that while I still get to lend my skills to keep the American Servicemember alive…..I have no command of Soldiers, and no direct burden of getting them home safely, as I did before.

I’m always burdened by what to teach my daughters about Memorial Day. Aside from ensuring they know it has no relation to the crass store sales, day off of work, and an excuse for a beer-infused barbecue……I don’t know whether to shelter them or expose them to the cold reality of this world.

What I do now, is that as each day passes, we lose the precious remaining few, of our generation that endured four long years of war on two fronts; war to protect the survival of our nation and our way of life. Their stories need to be told, not just on….but at least on Memorial Day. Ask your friends, kids or siblings to put down their smartphones, shelve Facebook for a few hours….and visit a cemetery, or a nursing home…a memorial or a museum. Say hi and thank you to the old fellow in the WWII Veteran ball cap at the mall. Learn and understand our history….and pass it down.

I’ve always been struck at how the following lines from the movie Memorial Day affect me every time I read them:

Dear Kylie, my old head can’t hold too much anymore but, today, a whole lot came flooding back into it. You might remember this afternoon as just another Saturday at Opa’s farmhouse. It wasn’t. I’ve never liked the word “souvenirs”, but I guess that’s what they are. Shards of memory, shrapnel. You take them to help you remember. What you don’t count on is they don’t let you forget. Pain. Happiness. Friendship. Death. Smells of diesel and dead animals. Eating meals within arm’s length of corpses. Men you laughed with a day before. People wonder if leaders are born or made. All I know is, you can see it in a man’s eyes. Problem is, leaders end up where they’re needed most. And eventually, that’s war. You’re special Kylie. I hope you know that. I always have. But I need you to stay strong. People look to guys like us to make decisions. If you do wear the uniform one day, remember something, when you put it on, you don’t get to choose the war or what happens when you get there. There’s no right or wrong in combat. There’s only what you did. You do your best, and you try to live with it. Some day they’ll take me off this porch for good. When that happens, what’s left that matters? Photographs, letters, empty clothes? No. It’s the stories behind them, those are what matter. Stories live forever, but only if you tell them. I may sound like I’ve known this a long time. I didn’t know it until today. I just wanted to say thank you for teaching me that. It was one hell of a souvenir. Love, Opa. 

Likewise, sage words from fellow veteran Tom McCuin:

Dear USA,

Monday is Memorial Day. It is the day we honor our war dead, those warriors who gave what Lincoln called, “the last full measure of devotion.” Enjoy your barbecues, your mattress sales, and your community pool openings, but remember you do so because those honored dead made it possible. Please do not offer your thanks to me or any other living veteran. It is not our day. We came home carrying our shields; they came home carried on theirs. Memorial Day the day we raise our glasses to absent comrades. Thank me and my living brothers-in-arms (and sisters, too) on Tuesday. But on Monday, turn your thoughts to the gardens of stone around the globe. See you at Section 60.

Not-so sage words from Constitutional Insurgent:

If I hear anyone say “Happy Memorial Day” this weekend….I’m ging to punch them in the throat.

Guess who wants us back?

After rebuking a continued [and legally protected] US presence via a renewal of the Status of Forces Agreement in 2011….and the statement by new Iraqi PM rejecting ground forces just last month…the Provisional Council of Anbar Province is apparently leading an effort to have more Americans die for Iraq.

Iraqi officials have issued a desperate plea for America to bring US ground troops back to the embattled country, as heavily armed Islamic State militants came within striking distance of Baghdad. 

The warning came from Sabah al-Karhout, president of the provisional council of Anbar Province, the vast desert province to the west of Baghdad that has now largely fallen under jihadist control.


Thanks but no thanks. We took out an oppressive, yet stable Sunni counterweight to Iran…and enabled a Shari’a compliant Shia ally…and are surprised by the nine year disaster now being ground zero in the ever continuing war over Muhammad’s ghost?

The bankruptcy of political rhetoric

The bobble heads in the right wing media are still banging the drum that “Obama withdrew US forces from Iraq” and that this event foretold the rise of ISIS. They regurgitate this pablum for the masses even though the previous Administration agreed to the 2008 SOFA that not only stipulated US forces withdraw NLT 31 December 2011….but also decreed that any future SOFA agreements would have to be ratified by the Iraqi Council of Representatives [CoR]. As we well know…..the CoR was not about to ratify any renegotiation of the SOFA in 2011, at least not with legal immunity for US forces from the Iraqi judicial system. So either these bobble heads are stupid…or they think that their audience is stupid. Or, they would sacrifice the immunity of US forces to a corrupt and Iranian-backed regime in Baghdad.

These same bobble heads attempt to castigate the current Administration for announcing a withdrawal date for US forces in Afghanistan….when the previous Administration did exactly the same for US force in Iraq.

It makes me feel icky any time I have to speak up for the current regime at 1600 Penn….but when the opposition is just as shallow and bereft of reason…….I see any hope for our future dim.

So much for no ‘boots on the ground’…..

The U.S. is sending another 300 troops to Iraq to beef up security at the U.S. Embassy and elsewhere in the Baghdad area to protect U.S. citizens and property, officials said Monday. 

That raises the total U.S. troop presence in Iraq to approximately 750, the Pentagon said.


I’m fully behind sending in the FAST [Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team] and the CRE [Contingency Response Element]…this is exactly what we have stood the units up for. But we’ve already exceeded that mission. Now, when the first attack comes against these guys, either at static sites or in transit, we’ll have justification to further expand the footprint and the scope.

This is how it begins. Again.

The Iraq blame game

With the news of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS] blazing a path through northern Iraq, the chattering class is again harping on the withdrawal of US forces in 2011. And predictably, the charges are rampant, that Obama “pulled the troops out early” and/or “refused to pursue a Status of Forces Agreement [SOFA]” with the Maliki regime.

Sadly for both talking points, the agreement reached between the Bush and Maliki negotiation teams, that stipulated US forces exit Iraq by Dec 31st, 2011….was a Status of Forces Agreement. It’s accurately titled the Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq On the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities during Their Temporary Presence in Iraq.

During those negotiations, the Iraqi’s made it clear that “We will not accept any memorandum of understanding if it does not give a specific date for a complete withdrawal of foreign troops” BBC

Now, one could argue that the Bush Administration was simply having no luck in keeping US forces in country past 2011.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says no U.S. troops will be left in his country after 2011, calling the agreement for all American soldiers to leave by then “not subject to extension, not subject to alteration.” Politico

But then one is going to have to acknowledge the same luck for the succeeding Administration.

So the politically and media driven noise machine is forced to support ignorance of this fact, forced to suppress any questions as to why the Bush Administration couldn’t or wouldn’t extend the withdrawal date….just as it supports an enforced ignorance of the differences between terrorism and insurgency….and the various groups involved with either….so that servile, patriotic fervor can be whipped up for campaign season..and for issues such as this.


I’ve followed the ongoing debates around the Counterinsurgency [COIN] theory of warfare for quite some time, especially during my ramp up to spend 15 months in Baghdad during the much vaunted ‘Surge’. Folks like Gentile, Metz, McMasters and Nagl would take to the wonkish forums like Small Wars Journal and the Center for Defense Studies to defend their strategy of taming asymmetric warfare in the 21st century. The discussions waxed and waned over topics like understanding indigenuous cultural values and the efficacy of armor and artillery in a COIN environment. These men are not superstars outside of their arena, as the media has not given due diligence to the architects of strategies that have influenced national policy and news cycles….though one name had stood out the brightest and for the longest. LTC John Nagl [Ret] wrote Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, which was published in 2002, and soon became the rising star of a cadre nicknamed the COINdinistas.

COIN soon became the new currency of strategic success, coming at a time when our outlook for obtainable metrics in Iraq was rapidly diminishing. But as many have noted, COIN is not a band aid for bad national policy, nor poor planning.

Nagl is leaving the world of strategic studies and the Center for a New American Security, but the debate still rages on.

Learning to Eat Soup with a Spoon
The American Conservative

Cogent commentary on the TAC article
Small Wars Journal

Defining the Surge rhetoric

If you follow the story of the Iraq Surge, and it’s aftermath, you quickly realize that there is an official story…one dutifully endorsed by the media. A story where the increase of US forces quelled the insurgency. A similar meme exists where Obama somehow ‘lost the peace’….but I digress.

Doug Ollivant of the New America Foundation penned a piece last summer regrading this ‘new orthodoxy’, that I somehow missed until now; but found thanks to Musings on Iraq. He lays a fair amount of blame at the feet of President Obama for institutional ambiguity on Iraq and Afghanistan, while laying out a pretty solid counter-argument to the generally accepted dogma of how the violence in Iraq decreased, somewhat.

Countering the New Orthodoxy: Reinterpreting Counterinsurgency in Iraq