Tuesday, September 9, 2008

WOODWARD: SURGE OPPOSED BY GENERALS AND WASN'T ALL THAT REDUCED VIOLENCE

Think Progress - In his "fourth insider account from the Bush White House," The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008, veteran journalist Bob Woodward "tracks the growing alarm in the White House in 2006, as U.S. casualties mounted during Iraq's plunge toward civil war." . . .

"While the violence in Iraq skyrocketed to unnerving levels, a second front in the war raged at home, fought at the highest levels of the White House, the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the State Department," Woodward writes. Indeed, "the idea of five brigades came from the White House, not from anybody except the White House." The Joint Chiefs of Staff "all but dismissed the surge option, worried that the armed forces were already stretched to the breaking point." Like Casey, the JCS "favored a renewal effort to train and build up the Iraqi security forces so that U.S. troops could begin to leave." By November 2006, the chiefs' frustrations burst into the open" after "news coverage that retired Gen. Jack Keane, the former Army vice chief of staff had briefed the president. . . about a new strategy being proposed by the American Enterprise Institute."

"When does the AEI start trumping the Joint Chiefs of Staff on this stuff," Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief, asked during one meeting. Adm. Michael Mullen, chief of naval operations, warned that "the all-volunteer force might break under the strain of extended and repeated deployments" and "several of the chiefs noted that the five brigades were effectively the strategic reserve of the U.S. military, the forces on hand in case of flare-ups elsewhere in the world." But Bush decided that the surge would "keep a lid on" violence and "also help here at home, since for many the measure of success is reduction in violence." For all his certainty, however, the president "did not know what his principal military adviser, Gen. Pace had recommended." During an interview with Woodward, Bush said, "Okay, I don't know this. I'm not in these meetings, you'll be happy to hear, because I got other things to do."

Despite conventional wisdom that "the surge had worked. . . the full story was more complicated." According to Woodward, the U.S. military's reliance on "a series of top-secret operations. . . had a far-reaching effect on the violence and were very possibly the biggest factor in reducing it." These covert activities enabled the military "to locate, target and kill key individuals in groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgency and renegade Shia militias, or the so-called special groups." Defense officials say that the military relied on "fusion cells" or "small, hybrid teams of special forces and intelligence officers" to capture "hundreds of suspected terrorists and their supporters in recent months" The book also reveals that U.S. intelligence closely tracked Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. "There is significant surveillance of Maliki. And as one source told me, 'We know everything he says.' And others I've talked to about that say, 'You can't literally know everything.' But we know a great deal," Woodward said in the 60 Minutes interview. Woodward also confirms that "the so-called Anbar Awakenings, in which tens of thousands of Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and signed up with U.S. forces," and Moqtada al-Sadr's decision "to suspend operations" of his powerful Mahdi Army also contributed to the lessening of violence.

[The surge is a good example of how politicians and the media become fixated on a single idea to the point that everyone forgets that a "reduction in violence" was never a reason for going to Iraq in the first place and thus can't be used as a factor in how well we did in the war - TPR]

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