Michael O’Hanlon Versus the Troops: Battle of the Op-Eds

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Two days ago, I pointed our readers to a New York Times op-ed written by seven active duty American soldiers in Iraq. The soldiers argued the surge isn’t working and that “four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise.” Their call for withdrawal was a direct rebuke of Michael O’Hanlon and his recently-stated pro-surge views. Witness the opening line of O’Hanlon’s pro-war op-ed (“A War We Just Might Win”):

Viewed from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel… the political debate in Washington is surreal.

And the opening line from the soldiers (“The War as We Saw It”):

Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal.

Now, O’Hanlon is acknowledging the smackdown. But he won’t back down, insisting that the American military is partnering better with the Iraqis, is getting better intelligence, and is on the offensive against the insurgents. Civilian casualties are down in Iraq, he argues, though that’s been contested.

What O’Hanlon refuses to recognize is that the surge was designed to slow violence in Iraq only in service of political ends. Going on the offensive against the insurgents is fine, but it’s only an important development if Iraqi politicians seize the opening and make progress towards a reconciled nation and a functioning government. They haven’t done that. They haven’t even come close.

Without political progress, the surge (and the military success O’Hanlon believes it is having) is just another swing in the cycle of war. We’re doing better now, but the insurgents will return with new and different tactics in a few months. Military officials agree. Check out this sentence from a recent McClatchy article: “Without reconciliation, the military officers say, any decline in violence will be temporary and bloodshed could return to previous levels as soon as the U.S. military cuts back its campaign against insurgent attacks.”

Oh, and as to why the troops writing in the Times might not be impressed with the surge’s so-called “success,” maybe it has something to do with the fact that this summer has been the deadliest summer of the war for American troops.

June-July-August 2003: 113 Americans killed
June-July-August 2004: 162 Americans killed
June-July-August 2005: 217 Americans killed
June-July-August 2006: 169 Americans killed
June-July-August 2007: 229 Americans killed so far

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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