Sunday, February 18, 2007

Editorial: The Urge to Surge

By Peter Holslin & illustration by Jeremy Schlangen

Surge used to have a lime-green taste and a lot of caffeine. It twisted 13 year olds into hyperactive tizzies. After the high wore off, tight, nauseating knots grew in their little stomachs. The sickness was worth the payoff—it was a hell of a buzz, while it lasted.

During his State of the Union Address last week, George W. Bush introduced a new brand of surge--a major tightening of military bases, crack counterinsurgency techniques and the installment of 21,500 additional American troops. If all goes according to plan, Iraq will be the formula’s apprehensive recipient. But, like the syrupy soda of our youth, Bush's surge will only make things worse.

“Nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq,” Bush said at one point during his speech, inciting a standing ovation. For the moment, he stole a self-satisfied smile. “I ask you to support our troops in the field and those on their way.”

In the weeks after the U.S. military ousted Saddam Hussein, Bush’s push would have probably helped stabilize Iraq and gain more trust from the Iraqis. Today, though, more and more politicians see the surge as a desperate maneuver destined to fail. This is a way of thinking many are beginning to refer to as “realism.”

Lately, calling Bush out on his incompetence has been like shooting fish in a barrel. Last week, Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Joe Biden reinvigorated their demands for a withdrawal, Republican John Warner issued his own anti-escalation resolution and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on a non-binding decree that protests the surge. Meanwhile, John McCain, Joe Liebermen and John Boehner were the high-profile reps for a dwindling population of surge buyers.

Right after the President’s speech, newly elected Democratic Senator Jim Webb, an ex-Marine, ex-Secretary of the Navy and ex-Republican whose son is serving in Iraq, issued a Democratic rebuttal. “The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought, nor do the majority of our military, nor does a majority of our Congress,” he said. “We need a new direction.”

Although this bi-partisan assault has been something of a success, the only thing most lawmakers have agreed on so far has been Bush’s ineptitude. Every solution for Iraq has glossed over the complicated nature of this war. The Iraq Study Group's 79-point plan, a bi-partisan effort recommending changes that should have been made years ago, went largely ignored, and there has been debate over theories that incorporate terms like “immediate,” “diplomacy,” “phase,” “withdraw,” and “escalation.” Now, there's the “surge.”

On the week ending Sunday, January 21st, 600 Iraqi civilians lost their lives in Iraq, according to Iraq Body Count, an internet tracking group. Between December 3, 2007 and last Friday, when we went to print, the New York Times reported that 151 troops also died, and that 65% of them were between the ages of 18 and 24. At a Senate meeting last Wednesday, Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, Bush’s choice as the new commander in Iraq, said that the situation in Iraq was “dire"--indeed, “We face a determined, adaptable, barbaric enemy,” he said, and “there are no guarantees.” Petraeus' conclusion: Iraq needs surge, and fast.

“We know that we’re not likely to stop this escalation,” New York Senator Hillary Clinton told Petraeus, as though expressing a newfound hopelessness. “But we are going to do everything we can to send a message to our government and the Iraqi government that they had better change, because the enemy we are confronting is adaptable.”

Messages are great P.R. for politicians gearing up for a Presidential race. Clinton’s adoring audience will drink her resistance up, knowing that she visited Iraq for a day last week. Still, her efforts haven't been enough to convince half of Iraq's parliament to show up for work. Nor did they shield the squad of American troops now patrolling Ghazaliya, a dilapidated Baghdad neighborhood, from local Al Qaeda fighters and Shiite militias stationed at a base nearby.

All of this seems to ask the nightly news watcher, surge or phase out? Either way, Iraqis and American troops, and their families and friends, will continue to sacrifice their lives. They deserve healthier options.

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