WHY ANY LINGERING SUSPENSE about the course of the war in Iraq? For the first half of this year, the congressional Democrats — for the most part — have joined with the Republicans in promoting the public fairy tale that we’re going to reach some climactic turning point come September. That’s when General David H. “Jesus Christ” Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker are scheduled to give their definitive report on progress on the war. The so-called surge of American troops was supposed to be the last-chance stab at saving Iraq policy, and we were all told to stand by and give it a chance to work.
Until then, you will remember, we’re not supposed to really do anything except keep our mouths shut, keep on funding the war as the Democrats shamefully voted to do last month, and, perhaps as a way to pass time, keep tallying up the dead. No matter, it seems, that the war is nastier than ever, that casualties are up, that sectarian killing is once again mounting, and that American and Iraqi troops barely control a third of Baghdad’s neighborhoods.
Now it seems even this game is up. An administration that twisted the truth to push us into Iraq is now simply lying about how we might start getting out. In short, nothing is going to be different; nothing is going to happen in September. All you had to do was catch General Petraeus all over the tube this week, baldly previewing what he will be saying more officially three months from now. He said, and will say, what this administration has been repeating for the last four and a half years: Don’t pull out any troops — we need more time. Asked if things will be settled down enough in September to start drawing down troops, General Petraeus answered that we weren’t even close to a turning point. “In fact, typically, I think historically, counterinsurgency operations have gone at least nine or 10 years,” he said. “The question is, of course, at what level.”
What’s really scary here is that admirers in both parties have portrayed Petraeus as the world’s greatest counterinsurgency expert, lauded for “having written the book” on the subject. But the conflicts that Petraeus clearly alludes to — El Salvador and Northern Ireland — have, in fact, no parallel whatsoever with the catastrophe in Iraq. Both are tiny countries where the insurgents represented a small but tenacious guerrilla force. Iraq, by contrast, is rent by a civil war with millions of partisans on both sides, and the fighting forces there are supported and armed by regional powers. In El Salvador, the U.S. maintained a force of 53 military advisers. In Iraq, we have 150,000 troops. Another 10 years of war seems a Pollyanna-ish estimate.
Meanwhile, someone should send a memo over to the general reminding him that in the United States the armed forces are supposed to be “non-deliberative,” i.e., their task is to follow the orders of civilian political leaders, and whether or not troops are withdrawn is not their decision. Continuing to make war or not should be a strictly political decision about which we should fully ignore the opinions of generals or colonels.
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Even more explicit in recasting the September strategy this week was the aptly named Ambassador Crocker. First came the ritual genuflection to Petraeus, who is now competing with John From Cincinnati in the possession of supernatural powers: “America could not ask for a finer, more experienced and more able military leader than they have in General Petraeus,” Crocker said. “I have heard him give tough, clear assessments to the president, to congressional visitors as they come through, and you’ve heard him in the open media. . . . He calls it as he sees it.” In other words, we must accept whatever he says in September — even though certain things he knows and certain things he doesn’t.
Crocker, then, finally revealed the answer to the question that haunts millions of Americans, especially those who have sacrificed a loved one in the war: Just what exactly have we been fighting for? Said Crocker, choosing a rather unfortunate analogy: “The surge buys time for a political process to get some legs under it.” That those legs might be the ones severed by IEDs, or that the Iraqi “political process” has now been interrupted by a two-month summer beach break, is apparently of little consequence.
We have come to expect this type of unchecked mendacity, these sorts of facile and fatuous comparisons trying to pass as Bush’s foreign policy. Indeed, we’ve become damn near desensitized to this sort of disastrous folly. Why, however, anyone with an IQ above room temperature would willingly buy into this fraud and continue to pretend that acting against the war is any different now than it will be in September is way, way beyond my modest powers of comprehension.
Perhaps John From Cincinnati knows.