Credit where it is due: The author the "surge" strategy


John McCain speaks of his ability to "win wars" by using the "surge" as his example. This is surprising, as this was the strategy that was first implemented in 2005 by U.S. Army Colonel, H.R. McMaster, in what he called "Clear, Hold and Build," a strategy that may have reduced the insurgency had it been supported at the time.

What also make the
authorship of this strategy so important, aside from the fact that Colonel McMaster deserves credit where it is due, is the dust-up that resulted after the strategy was proposed to the Pentagon and then the White House in 2005 as a way to bring about conditions for a political solution in Iraq prior to the worst of the insurgency taking hold:
The successful strategy created by a Col. H.R. McMaster (Clear, Hold and Build), where his troops went into a city, lived among the population in small units, built trust and protected the population while they fought the insurgents.

Requests to implement his strategy that went up the ranks were stopped at the highest levels. The reasons given: it would take more troops and put them in more danger. Thomas Rick's reaction: you can't fight a war as a tourist." It was not implemented by the Pentagon.

The State Department representative in Iraq heard about "Clear, Hold and Build" and flew back to tell Condoleeza Rice. Rice then went before Congress and, in what turned out to be a direct challenge to Rumsfeld, formally recommended the Clear, Hold and Build strategy during a hearing that was broadcast live.

Rumsfeld quickly held a press conference where he said (paraphrase): we didn't have the troops to implement it and it wasn't our responsibility to protect the Iraqis.

The insurgency exploded.
There were generals who did not give up on the idea of "Clear, Hold and Build." They pointed to Col. McMasters' success as the only feasible strategy. When General Jack Keane went to see President George Bush about it in 2006, he came away thinking he had finally convinced him. Shortly thereafter, according to Thomas Ricks on the FRONTLINE episode, ENDGAME, Dick Cheney then talked George W. Bush out of supplying the necessary troops for success.

It was only after the new Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates, and General David Petraeus came aboard that the "Clear, Hold and Build" strategy was given serious consideration and it was Petraeus, a long-time proponent of the strategy, who implemented it beginning July 4, 2007.

What is missing from the above account is any support for John McCain's implication of authorship, as presented by his constant self-identification with the "surge." While he did, early on and during the early part of the Republican primary season, support the "surge" strategy, it should be noted that it was two years after Colonel McMaster had proven its effectiveness in Tal Afar, Iraq, before it was put through, long after the time when the wider implementation of McMaster's strategy could have reduced the level of insurgency and bettered the political outcome in Iraq. Which would have, in turn, freed troops for the neglected war in Afghanistan that has now "surged" to the forefront.