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It’s not uncommon for our government to invoke policies in advance of elections to make the ruling Party look good. Most commonly, it’s gas prices. The government will quietly cut military activity (both stabilizing the region & consuming less fuel, leaving more on the market for consumers), stop filling up the “strategic reserve” and cut backroom deals with oil companies to glut the market with gasoline and force prices down as November approaches. Then almost magically, the week after the election, prices mysteriously start to creep back up.

When the country has troops deployed in a warzone, they will take steps to depress the number of troop casualties in advance of the election as well. The period between April and November of ’04 was bookended by two of the deadliest months on record with 135+ troop fatalities each. But the months in between, the number of troop fatalities never broke out of the mid 60’s, less than half of the number as those two deadly months around it. Fewer troop maneuvers as soldiers are ordered to remain on base means putting fewer troops in harms way. Then the politicians go on the evening news and crow about how we are “succeeding in our mission, and these recent statistics prove it!” Does it?

I’m still researching the matter, so look for a future update. But consider the possibility that the recent decline in troop casualties is due not because of “more soldiers” but less activity. We’ve had this many soldiers in Iraq before and the violence was far worse… so what changed?

Well, the Mahdi Army Truce for one. And as iCasulties.org notes, the decline in coalition troop casualties coincides with the Mahdi Army Truce of May 10th.

I considered several possible ways to evaluate if my theory were true or not:

First, if the number of troop casualties were low but the number of Iraqi casualties were going up, it would be a clear indicator that fewer troops were being put in harms way. How else would an increase in overall violence result in fewer troop casualties? However, this does not appear to be the case, as Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence is down as well due to the truce.

The opposite argument being made by the McCain crowd is that an increased troop presence is reducing violence. If this is the case, then the spike in violence before the May 10th truce should not of been so dramatic. And past periods when we had as many or more troops in Iraq would likewise have seen the same downward trend in violence. We didn’t. If more troops means more arrests, more weapons seizures, and an inability to plant bombs without being seen… all benefits of having more eyes on the ground, then even without the truce, there should of been fewer opportunities for violence.

There is the Petraeus “dispersal” theory that breaking platoons into smaller groups that are then sent out “among the people” is allowing Iraqi’s to “connect” with troops, endearing them to the civilian populace, and not viewing them so much as “occupiers” as being there to help. Two problems with this theory: one, they were doing this before the Feb-March spike in violence, so the argument that “connecting with Iraqis will make them less willing to see you harmed” would not of changed when the truce was lifted. And two, troops dispersed into smaller groups means you can’t kill two-dozen soldiers at once with a single bomb or highway ambush. Just because it takes insurgents longer to kill troops, doesn’t mean public opinion of their being there has changed. (“70 percent of Iraqis say they want the US to withdraw completely.”) (Updated link – 6/5/08: “Iraqi Parliamentarian: 70 Percent Of Iraqis Want Withdrawal, Huge U.S. Embassy Not A ‘Positive Signal’“)

The final theory is that keeping troops on base and off the streets is provoking less violence. With fewer targets to shoot at, violence goes down. And if this turns out to be the case, then the suggestion that pulling troops out of Iraq would result in an explosion of violence would then be demonstrably false. The exact opposite would be true, bolstering the case that we can pull our troops out without Iraq descending into chaos. The current improvement of conditions in Iraq may not be due to “The Surge” at all, but due to “fewer” troops being put in harms way. I believe current circumstances make this theory the strongest of the four, and definitely worth investigating.

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