Thursday, January 31, 2013

JOHN McCAIN'S CLUELESS ABOUT "THE SURGE" (and why Chuck Hagel should be Secretary of Defense)

Today Senator John McCain grilled former Senator Chuck Hagel, who is President Obama's nominee to replace Leon Panetta as the Secretary of Defense. One of the primary issues Senator McCain pursued was then Senator Chuck Hagel's opposition to The Surge, which sent more troops into Iraq in 2007 to quell what was turning into a national security nightmare.

The Surge was a last ditch effort by the Bush administration to gain control of a chaotic situation in Iraq, and is often credited - wrongly in my view - with reducing violence in Iraq. Senator McCain tried to get Chuck Hagel to admit that he was wrong to oppose The Surge. Worse, Senator McCain wasn't very nice about it.

What Senator McCain doesn't understand - as I wrote about in 2008 - is that The Surge was not responsible for the decline in violence in Iraq. As I posted back in March 2008 the decline in violence in Iraq was a product of four intertwined developments.

1. Moqtada al-Sadr's August 2007 cease-fire.

2. The Anbar Awakening, Sept. 2006 (when Sunni's said no to Al Qaeda).

3. The physical separation of Shi'a and Sunnis right before The Surge, in 2007.

4. The Low-Hanging Fruit of Death are gone (Shi'a and Sunnis moved out of previously "integrated" neighborhoods by August 2007).

It was these four developments - and not The Surge - that helped bring stability to Iraq. To be sure, The Surge helped solidify the gains produced by these developments. But let's be clear. This makes The Surge a supporting rather than determining factor for Iraq's decline in violence.

I could be wrong, but this is what Chuck Hagel was trying to explain to Senator McCain as he pressed Hagel on his opposition to The Surge at the time. Hagel simply didn't believe we needed to put U.S. troops in front of a cease-fire reconciliation parade that was already on the road.

At the end of the day Senator John McCain was trying to make the case that supporting The Surge is a sign of good judgment. Demonstrating a penchant for independent judgement, Hagel opposed The Surge. His opposition, according to Senator McCain, means Chuck Hagel's judgement is suspect. Ergo, Hagel doesn't deserve to be Secretary of Defense.

Speaking of judgment perhaps Senator McCain might want to remind everyone of his support for going into Iraq in the first place. Or maybe he could tell us about his judgement when it came to selecting his vice-presidential running mate. Or, related to The Surge, perhaps Senator McCain can tell us why he claimed that The Surge made the Anbar Awakening possible, which demonstrated that he doesn't know how to read a Gregorian calendar.

So let's be clear here. Supporting The Surge does not make you a military genius. Nor is it an indication that you were right. And it certainly doesn't make you presidential (as McCain learned). It only means that you were trying to cover your tracks at the time.

We need better than that from our government. Which is why Hagel is a great choice for Secretary of Defense.

- Mark

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