Sooner or later, even the most skeptical among us succumb to a bout of wishful thinking — it’s human nature. Perhaps this accounts for the 6 percent uptick in the percentage of Americans who think Bush’s surge policy is beginning to work, according to a Rasmussen poll, released August 3.
Administration spin doctors are working overtime and having some success in persuading MSM to parrot the party line, that the surge is beginning to work. In this case, however, the spin is about to collapse under the weight of the facts. Juan Cole, professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan lays it out today in his Salon post “A surge of phony spin on Iraq.” On the political goals, Cole explains:
The troop escalation was intended to calm down Baghdad and to give the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki breathing room to pursue a political reconciliation, especially with the Sunni Arab population. But the political goals of the surge are simply not being accomplished — and indeed, the political situation has deteriorated substantially.
Maliki has lost even the few Sunni Arab allies he began with; the Sunni Arab coalition, called the Iraqi Accord Front, that had actually been in his government has now had its cabinet ministers tender their resignations. He has not held further reconciliation talks with dissident Sunni Arab groups. The Sunni Arab guerrilla groups are thinking of forming an opposition political party in hopes of extending their efforts to topple his government into the political sphere. His relations with Sunni Arab neighbors are so bad that Saudi Arabia declined his request to visit Riyadh.
Cole has more to say about other political parties withdrawing support from Maliki, and has this to say about casualty statistics:
Before July ended, a spate of wire service and newspaper reports began appearing, saying that only 74 U.S. troops had been killed by Iraqi guerrillas that month, the lowest total since November and a sign that the surge was working. But the reporters and editors who gave U.S. headlines such as “U.S. Death Toll in Iraq in July Expected to Be Lowest in ’07” (New York Times) were being assiduously spun. Bush officials were undoubtedly pushing the information that produced these headlines in an attempt to give Republicans in Congress some good news to take back to their constituents during the August recess….before the month had ended. By the time all the casualties were counted and reported (not until early August), icasualties.org was giving the July toll as 80, only one less than in March, during the opening stages of the surge.
Worse, comparisons to previous months in the spring don’t take into account the searing summer environment…The dip in casualties is always substantial in July, since guerrillas usually prefer not to operate with heavy explosives when it is 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.
And as a tally noted on Foreign Policy magazine’s blog, the number of U.S. troop deaths in July, compared with previous years of the war, is anything but a turn for the better:
July 2003: 48
July 2004: 54
July 2005: 54
July 2006: 43
July 2007: 80
A sad story for Americans. But even sadder for Iraqis, according to Cole:
Meanwhile, the statistics for the hapless Iraqis themselves are no less encouraging. According to icasualties.org, the Iraqi civilian and military death toll from political violence in July 2007 was 1,690, a 25 percent increase from the July 2006 number, 1,280. (There was also a 25 percent increase in Iraqi casualties in July 2007 over June 2007, meaning the trend was going in the wrong direction any way you look at it.) These statistics — bad enough as they are — are typically understated by a substantial margin because passive tallying by media outlets misses many deaths.
Cole cites a Reuters report that in June guerillas mounted an average of 177.8 attacks per day — an all-time high for Iraq.
Back in September, before the surge, a poll taken by Worldopinion.org found that 71 percent of Iraqis want us to withdraw within one year. For Shia, the figure was 74 percent, 91 percent for Sunni and 35 percent for Kurds. Given the mounting casualty toll since then, it’s hard to imagine these numbers getting any better post-surge. For Democratic candidates who prefer a realistic analysis of surge statistics and Iraqi public opinion, the strategy options point in one direction.