Increased Iraq Violence = Success

No, you didn’t read the title wrong — Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell really did say that the new fighting in Basra, in which US-backed government forces are battling Shiite militias, “looks as though it is a by-product of the success of the surge.”

suppose the description isn’t surprising. After all, President Bush
himself (or a speechwriter similarly unafflicted by a sense of irony)
has the dubious distinction of having coined the term “catastrophic success” to describe the invasion of Iraq.

were there no new fighting in Basra, the Pentagon would acknowledge the
reduced violence was a sign of failure (insert facetious emoticon
here). But of course, the Pentagon has previously claimed the opposite
— that reduced
Shiite violence was a sign of success
. In fact, “surge”
supporters have so frequently trumpeted the success of the strategy
precisely on reduced violence grounds that it’s not even worth offering
a link — just Google “surge is working.”

here’s the problem. If reduced violence = success and increased
violence = success, then anything that happens in Iraq is success. If
all this success meant we were going to leave Iraq, the doublespeak
might have a silver lining. But of course it’s intended to have the
opposite effect. William Saletan pointed this out all the way back in 2004 in Slate.

would happen to a CEO who told her board of directors that increased
sales and decreased sales were both signs of success? To a doctor who
assured a patient that both improving and worsening symptoms were signs
of a return to health? To a stockbroker who counseled a client that he
was getting richer whether his portfolio was up or down? And yet this
is precisely the argument war proponents repeatedly make.

irony is, a refusal to articulate actual and logical metrics by which
success and failure can be measured is a certain prescription for…
well, for failure. The double irony is that when the inevitable
failure occurs, the people who caused and supported it will blame
everyone but themselves.