Why John McCain's "Surge" Success Story Is A Lie

News Abroad

Mr. Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He's the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).

It really makes the Iraq debate easy for John McCain when he throws around words like "win" and "victory" and "prevail" and "success" without really defining what they mean. A short time ago he was calling for American troops to remain in Iraq forever and that Obama was "naive" for suggesting otherwise. Now that the Iraqi government has indicated its desire for the American troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2010, McCain has gone dovish crediting his own insight for the "surge" that "won" the war. He even hinted today that American troops might be able to come home after all.

But McCain's stance totally contradicts the substance of the "status of force" agreement the Bush Administration has been trying to ram down the Iraqi government's throat, which would codify a permanent American military presence in Iraq. General David Petraeus told Barack Obama during his recent trip to Iraq that he opposes a "timetable" for the withdrawal of American troops because he wants to maintain "flexibility." I guess Petraeus didn't get the memo from the George W. Bush-John McCain camp.

The editors of the New York Times opinion page asked McCain to rework his most recent submission. They demanded that he at least define what he means by "winning" in Iraq and what such a "victory" would look like on the ground. It is a welcome, if belated, arrival into the "reality-based community" on the part of the Times. (Of course, they still have David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, and William Kristol).

McCain is going to have some major editing work to do. He must not only declare that the "surge" was a great success, but he has to argue that it was such a magnificent "victory" that an American troop reduction might be in order (this comes after McCain denounced Obama repeatedly for making this same argument).

When McCain isn't talking about non-existent countries like "Czechoslovakia," or non-existent frontiers, like the "Iraq-Pakistan border," he's smugly dressing down Obama on foreign relations. The Rightwing is whining about the positive press coverage Obama is getting on his trip, but if Obama referred to "Czechoslovakia" or to the "Iraq-Pakistan border" the media would have plunged his campaign into deep doo doo.

It is disingenuous and self-serving for McCain to begin all of his discussions about Iraq with the January 2007 "surge." In doing so, he is airbrushing out the inconvenient history of the war.

Let's review.

In January 2007, when George W. Bush decided to pour more American soldiers into Iraq and escalate the U.S. troop commitment there he was responding to domestic politics. The Democrats were about to take over both houses of Congress and the Baker-Hamilton Commission Report had issued an indictment of the administration's lack of a diplomatic track in ending the conflict. Defiant, petulant, and immature as ever, Bush launched what his handlers called a "surge" to lock in the policy as the Democrats took their places on Capitol Hill and to show his Uncle Jim and his Daddy that he didn't need or want their advice.

By January 2007, the occupation in Iraq had long been a strategic and humanitarian disaster. There was already widespread "low intensity" ethnic cleansing, and with the February 22, 2006 destruction of the Shia Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra there was unleashed a sectarian bloodbath that transformed the country. The Shia government, which controlled the Interior Ministry and much of the security apparatus, went on a rampage and shielded freelance death squads and militias that reaped their revenge on Sunni communities throughout the country. In a short period, the ancient city of Baghdad went from being mostly Sunni to being mostly Shia. There were 2 million people who fled the country and another 2 million internally displaced people. It wasn't very long ago Iraqis were torturing each other with Black & Decker power drills. I doubt if the underlying current of hate and the cycle of revenge have dissipated. But after the dust settled there was relative calm. It had nothing to do with the "surge."

Any "success" that McCain or Bush or Kenneth Pollack or Michael O'Hanlon or Michael Gordon or David Petraeus and all the rest of the war-hawks talk about is delusional because it is proclaimed by willfully ignoring the humanitarian costs; the price in blood and treasure the Iraqis have paid, and to a far lesser extent, the Americans too. McCain is celebrating a Pyrrhic victory. The United States destroyed Iraq in order to save it. Just take a look at Falluja, or Baghdad with its hideous blast walls and check points. That place will never be the same. In a just world the United States would pay reparations to Iraq for a hundred years. (Don't take my word for it, read Patrick Cockburn's Muqtada, and Jonathan Steele's Defeat.)

Let's review some more.

First, the Senate Intelligence Committee's "Phase II" investigation of the lead-up to the war confirms that the Bush Administration used deception, lies, and misleading statements to hoodwink the public and the Congress into buying the idea that attacking Iraq served American national security interests. The Bush Administration lied this nation into war. Its principal mouthpieces and behind-the-scenes operators should be held accountable for their crimes, which include perjury, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power. (In addition to the international war crimes of aggressive war and torture.) It was a disgrace that will forever besmirch the reputation of this nation. I don't see any "victory" there.

Second, this war has cost our nation at least $750 billion (and counting) and the entire financial burden has been thrown on to the national debt. We'll be paying this thing back, with interest, to the same Wall Street elites that we are currently bailing out as part of a "remedy" for the mortgage meltdown. The 30,000 maimed American soldiers must be taken care of, and their health costs will soar with the cost of everything else. The PTSD cases alone will cost this country dearly in ways that we cannot even anticipate at this time. No "victory" there.

Third, all this talk of "success" in Iraq masks what the original aim of the war was supposed to be: Disarming the regime of Saddam Hussein of its "weapons of mass destruction." There was nothing to "disarm" because the Iraqi government had no weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations weapons inspectors only cost about $50 million per annum and they should have been allowed to do their jobs. Even if they were still in Iraq hunting for WMD right now it would have cost only about $300 million and the U.S. would have partners sharing the financial burden. The things we could have done with all that money we've wasted in Iraq. Bush then changed the objective of the war to an elaborate nation building exercise, an endeavor we still have not accomplished and probably never will. Democracy does not come out of a barrel of a gun. I see nothing "victorious" here.

Fourth, about 1,200 private corporations have been shamelessly profiteering off the Iraq war from day one. Halliburton's graft crimes are legion, and we won't find out the extent of the shoddy services KBR provided our soldiers, or how many Iraqi civilians Blackwater killed, until a new Attorney General is sworn in, and maybe not even then. "Win?" I guess you could say the profiteers "won."

With tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed and maimed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere; and with commentators like John Bolton, Benny Morris, and Charles Krauthammer demanding the United States or Israel attack Iran, thereby expanding the killing fields; and with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) working hand-in-glove with resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda elements in the northwestern border region and in Kashmir; and with the Bush Administration's failed saber rattling, warmongering, and unilateralist bluster -- Can we now safely conclude, at this late date, that Bush's foreign policy has been a catastrophe for the world and the single biggest recruiting tool for international terrorists?

It doesn't smell like "victory" to me.

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robert tyme - 8/13/2008

That's cool, check out this mobility scooter I bought my mom for Christmas.


It is called a TravelScoot mobility scooter and it folds up like an umbrella and weighs just 35 lbs. She keeps it in a carrying bag in her trunk. She takes it out anywhere.

David Thaddeus Liebers - 7/31/2008

A response to this article is written here:


Stan Burnitt - 7/29/2008

Reality is of no importance to those who so glibly destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives in this adventure which has ground down the US military and helped accelerate that country's slide into bankruptcy.

There is no use in repeating what Palermo has written or go on about the dangerous situation the invasion has created for all of Iraq's neighbors and the invaders themselves. It has all been said before.

All I can add is that today's petulant claims of success are as absurd in real time as Bush's 'mission accomplished' claim was in real time. I continue asking myself a question I have asked since December 2000: Is it possible to underestimate Americans of my generation? The answer is still no.
Even after racking up all the losses in blood, money, respect, and influence, a truly sick and utterly discredited ideology still trumps reality for those who claim to be 'the most important people in the world'.

Randll Reese Besch - 7/28/2008

Between Obama and McCaine staying in the Middle East will be a long term project not to be finished until either the oil runs out or cooler heads prevail in the would be empire of the USA.

Something was wrong when 9/11/2001 was blamed on Afghanistan and Iraq when it was Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that were to blame. Obama speaks about 100,000 more soldiers in our military and attacking Pakistan (Waziristan) and McCain's addled "Bomb,bomb Iran" chuckles show us not two good choices at this time. The infrastructure for the occupation doesn't bode well for leaving by the end of this century much less this decade.

Too bad Kucinich wasn't nominated, he would have worked to end this long war crime in progress.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 7/28/2008

This violent diatribe by Mr. Palermo is so partisan and ugly there is no room to attempt to educate him.

Rodney Huff - 7/28/2008

John H. Kimbol,

Bush did lie. He and other White House officials said that it was a certainty Saddam had WMDs. Bush and company said that Iraq posed an immediate threat to this country and clearly implied, if not stated explicitly, on several occassions that Saddam was in cahoots with Al Qaeda, thus suggesting falsely that Saddam had something to do with 9/11.

All of these assertions were lies. When Bush said there was certainty that Saddam had WMDs, there was actually a great deal of uncertainty in the intelligence community. But not only did the Bush administration cherry pick the intelligence they would present in support of their policies, Cheney and Rumsfeld, not satisfied with CIA intelligence that contradicted what they wanted to hear, also created their own intelligence office deep in the belly of the Department of Defense. There, they created their own "facts" and presented them as incontrovertible evidence of Iraqi WMDs. These lies were intentional and showed a conscious desire on the part of the Bush administration to mislead Americans into an imperialist war of aggression.

Furthermore, the Center for Public Integrity has documented 935 false public statements made by the White House officials in the lead up to the war with Iraq. http://projects.publicintegrity.org/WarCard/

And even the fraudulent 9/11 Commission said that there was no connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda. It didn't even make sense to posit such a relationship, since Saddam was a secular dictator whom the religious fundamentalist Bin Laden considered to be one of his enemies.

Rodney Huff - 7/28/2008

Here's another resource: http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=911+Revisited&;sitesearch=#q=911%20Revisited&sitesearch=&start=10

Rodney Huff - 7/28/2008

Read the 9/11 Commission Report. Then, read Paul thompson's Terror Timeline and see how the public record contradicts the Commission's conclusions.

Follow the story of Sibel Edmonds and see how a network of corrrupt government officials and foreign moles can obtain nuclear secrtes from US government facilities and sell them to the likes of Pakistan, North Korea, Libya, and Iran. See how another 9/11-like event is likely to happen due to elements of the US government colluding with foreign agents.

Watch 9/11 Press for Truth, the documentary about the families of 9/11 victims who pressured the White House into authorizing an investigation into 9/11, and their disappointment with the 9/11 Commission's inability or refusal to answer many of the questions they wanted answered by its investigation. Watch it for free here http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3979568779414136481&;q=911+press+for+truth

Rodney Huff - 7/28/2008

The reason why many Americans have trouble questioning the official account of 9/11 - which is itself a conspiracy theory - is because the story we are told leaves intact cherished myths about America and its leadership. To question the story, to point out the fraud of the 9/11 Commission, is to challenge the basic myth of America's exceptional status in the world - the idea that certain things can't happen here, because, well, this is America!

This narcissistic attitude, based on a myth, signals a relaxing of one's guard and a complacency that undermines the eternal vigilance required by genuine freedom from despotism. It also signals a fear of learning the truth.

I suspect that knowing the truth of 9/11 may impose a burden and responsibility that most people prefer not to take up, because right now they are too busy pursuing their careers or too busy trying to make ends meet or too indifferent to become informed, politically engaged citizens.

The truth, of course, is that we don't know the truth. Our government has lied to us. Any informed citizen who has taken the time to analyze the official 9/11 story knows it is false.

How could 9/11 have been the result of "a failure of imagination" when the White House received numerous warnings about specific threats involving domestic targets, including WTC and the Pentagon, and planes being used as weapons? (See Paul Thompson's "The Terror Timeline" - a true history of what was known and when it was known based on news stories - all open source materials.)

Although we do not know exactly what happened on 9/11, we can be sure that elements of this government had foreknowledge of the attack and allowed it to happen, and then they conspired to cover up their involvement.

Certainly, those involved are not all equally culpable. Some probably had more knowledge of the plan than others. Still, others probably carried out parts of the plan without knowing the true significance of what they were doing; they may have been just following orders.

Objection: There’s no way anyone in this government was complicit in the 9/11 attacks; too many people would have been involved. Someone would have leaked.

In the sprawling bureaucratic labyrinth that characterizes many federal agencies, moles can and do establish themselves (see Sibel Edmonds's story http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-X39zdgXSqs); and certainly many things can be done secretly in the darkest corners of the bureaucratic maze that is the State Department, the Department of Defense, Justice Department, etc. The cloak of authority adds further insulation from discovery. The authority to terminate investigations, classify communications, and simply make things happen, using foreign agents and unwitting accomplices, is all that is needed to keep something secret just long enough -- if not forever.

We also cannot underestimate the power of those involved to induce the cooperation of or coerce into silence those who, for whatever reason, would be inclined to come forward and face the firing squad. In any case, there would be very strong incentives to not to come forward.

And, of course, the perpetrators could rely on a traumatized, unquestioning public to cling to the myth that their government would never do such a thing -- that criminals could never infiltrate the highest circles of power and coordinate a false flag attack to win public support for an imperialist war of agression. That could never happen here. This is America!

Rodney Huff - 7/28/2008

The author mentions in passing the ISI and its relationship to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. This relationship is worth dwelling on because it can lead us to a true understanding of 9/11, which has been used by this administration to justify massive increases in defense spending and two major wars.

A true understanding of 9/11 involves knowing the ISI's role in funding this attack. It also requires one to reject the official story of 9/11 contained in the 9/11 Commission's Final Report. A true understanding, then, involves knowing we've been lied to.

The Commission's Final Report reinforces a series of myths that function to conceal reality and derail any criticism of the official version of what happened.

A glaring example: The Final Report claims that the source of the funds for 9/11 is neither known nor important - two outrageous lies.

Shortly after 9/11, the Times of India reported that Indian intelligence discovered that General Mahmoud Ahmad, head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Inteligence (ISI), ordered Ahmed Omar Sheikh to wire $100,000 to the lead 9/11 hijacker, Mahmud Atta, just before the attacks. The Indian government relayed this information to the US, and the FBI confirmed it.


Furthermore, it IS important we know who paid for 9/11. How can this not be important? Did we not learn the importance of following the money trail from Watergate?

James Robles - 7/27/2008

I have been a registered Democrat my entire life, and never, ever have I been so disappointed in my party. Now, don't mistake me, I dislike John McCain as much as the rest of you, however, in contrast, I don't think Sen. Obama has the integrity or honesty to lead our country. Not to mention the fact that if he where to enact all of the "promises" he has been touting, we would be sitting on $850 Billion in new spending over the course of his first term. Guess where that money is coming from? Not the rich. Not the poor. The middle class small business owner's like myself who employ nearly half of the nation's workers. At least Hillary did the math and had a plan that made sense. Obama is an impressive speaker, but the same could be said of any one of the number of speeches he has plagiarized since he started his campaign. I am deeply disturbed by my party's blindness to facts. It's unfortunate.

As far as Iraq, yes, we shouldn't have got in there, but we are there now. Yes, it's expensive. Yes, it costs lives. But it is our fault. Democrats and Republicans alike. We have a moral obligation to fix what we have broken.

Bottom line, Obama and McCain are both self serving politicians. Comparing apples to apples, McCain is the better candidate for the job on both policy experience and integrity. So, sadly, for the first time in my adult life, I am voting Republican this November. God help us all.

James Lee Winningham - 7/27/2008

So because we are in Iraq now, we can completely absolve ourselves of how we got there. There is one thing you are missing about the United States. That is we didn't have democracy pushed down our throat. Democrative movements are natural movements that must happen spontaneous and be VOLUNTARY. Any kind of democracy anywhere will probably look different than ours and you can't force it down people's throats. No serious student can compare the sectarian violence and overall bloodbath in Iraq to the 11 years between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And with all due respect, if you knew more about your own history you would see that our movement was voluntary and it took a Declaration, a failed Articles of Confederation, a constitution and all problems in between and after to develop our Democracy (and still developing over 200 years after the fact). How long do you think it will take and how much blood and treasure to force this movement on a country with thousands of years of history we do not understand? As I would like our politicians to answer, what is "victory?"

ex Democrat - 7/27/2008

Further proof that our state colleges have turned into academic wastelands.

This intellectually dishonest piece could be used in the war against tenure (aka: Socialist's Employment Act).

What an embarrassment.

John H. Kimbol - 7/26/2008

Dnn OH,

President Bush did not "lie". Not everything you disagree with is a lie.

To throw your own question back at you, since you are so committed to our defeat in Iraq, why don't you sign yourself up for a suicide mission and go out in a blaze of terrorist glory?

John H. Kimbol - 7/26/2008

If anyone wonders why Americans hold professional academicians in such low regard, you just might find a clue in this dimwitted screed.

Dnn OH - 7/26/2008

David Dennis, I think it's actually "Palermo". And exactly how does the RFK comment pertain to McCain being a total idiot and not knowing what the heck he's talking about?

Dnn OH - 7/26/2008

So Sandy Davis, since we're now in the business of exporting Democracy and nation building, why are we not intervening in Darfur, where there are ongoing atrocities to the majority of the population far worse than the numbers that Saddam tortured?

There are always, have always been, and always will be tyrants the world over. Why was Saddam so important that we had to waste billions of dollars and countless lives while letting our own economy go to ruin?

But then, you must think the economy is going swellingly...or else it's somehow the fault of the Democrats...or the "liberal national media"...

Bush LIED to get us into Iraq. THAT is why it's an issue that we're over there NOW. We had no business being over there, and the sooner we can get out the better. Uninformed myopic people like you are the reason why we're in the mess we're in now. If Iraq is so important, and you believe in this mythical victory so much, why don't you go over there and see what aid you can render?

David Dennis - 7/26/2008

You are two books and 30 years late on RFK. Someone forgot to tell you that you are not important in the grand scheme of things,but, an opinion, we all have one of course.

Sandy Davis - 7/26/2008

I really wish people would stop whining about Iraq and the war we are in over there. We are there, there is NOTHING you can do to change that and blaming Bush or anyone else for that matter won't help anything. I get sick and tired of folks complaining about how long peace is taking in IRAQ. Try reading the Summer of 1787 by David Stewart about when our Constitution was written. Let's see that is 11 years AFTER the Declaration of Independence was signed and the US was falling apart. Freedom and democracy takes time, sacrifice and patience. READ THE BOOK. The parallels with IRAQ are almost uncanny. Maybe if we knew more about our OWN history we would be more patient while the Iraqis determine theirs!

judy swindler - 7/26/2008


McCain just blew off speaking with thousands of reporters at the upcoming Unity national convention for journalists all the while complaining he's not getting nearly enough news coverage. At last count, it looks to be over 10,000 reporters who were snubbed by Mr. McCain. With all those news reporters losing out on a great opportunity to meet with and write about the man, could it be that mainstream media might be looking for something to report, a story to investigate?

Feel free to forward the following "news tip" to them. We can kill three birds with one stone - take the media to task for not giving us coverage on the full McCain, bring attention to an issue affecting many veterans, and give Senator McCain the level of news coverage he craves.

The media fills us full with stories of McCain's war 'hero' history, writes numerous articles on his status as a POW, informs us each and every time one vet speaks out for him, reminds us endlessly about the torture, even going into great detail about the types of torture and the number of years the man was tortured, yet it never enters the minds of mainstream media to ever ask the obvious question "Could the man running for the highest office in the United States of America, a job with incredible stress, possibly suffer from PTSD"?

Google the general web with the words 'mccain ptsd' and 577,000 hits will appear. Many of these are articles by veteran groups, most having to do with McCain's lack of support for veterans and others having to do with the very real possibility he suffers from PTSD.

Now go to Google news section and enter 'mccain ptsd'. To be fair, google the entire Google News archive. Out of the grand total of 16 news articles that appear, You will find only one or two, other than this one, that dares discuss the probability of McCain having PTSD,

As you can see, there is no real mainstream media responsibility on this issue. The press is more than willing to talk about the details of McCain's torture but not the probable result of the torture.

“Among U.S. servicemen taken captive during the Korean War, as many as nine out of 10 survivors may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental disorders more than 35 years after their release, psychologist Patricia B. Sutker of the New Orleans Veterans Administration Medical Center and her colleagues report in the January AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY.”

McCain has a nine out of ten chance of having PTSD, displays many of the symptoms, yet no one in the mainstream press will question him, a candidate for Commander in Chief who has a history of an out of control temper and refuses to release his military medical records to the general press.

Nine out of ten - Anyone willing to take book on the possibility he does not suffer from ptsd? Call me, I need gas money.

'Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can result from wartime trauma such as suffering wounds or witnessing others being hurt. Symptoms include irritability or outbursts of anger, sleep difficulties, trouble concentrating, extreme vigilance and an exaggerated startle response.'



Before the Iraq war many of us begged the media to fully report on the wmd in Iraq, how it got there, who helped to supply Saddam with it and to report on previous administrations' dealings with Iraq. We were told it was ancient history. The media 'apologized' years later for their failure to fully report the war.

Today, we ask the media to help us answer the question 'Is John McCain emotionally fit for the most stressful job in our country, the President of the United States, our Commander in Chief."

Media has a choice. They can continue to tip toe around the elephant in the room, put a politician before country, violate the spirit of journalism and ignore the ethics that bind them, or they can do their job. They can give us the full McCain.