The military commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, is to deliver a report to Congress on Monday that could be the most consequential testimony by a wartime commander in more than a generation. What the country desperately needs is an honest assessment of the war and a clear strategy for extricating American forces from the hopeless spiral of violence in Iraq.
President Bush, however, seems to be aiming for maximum political advantage — not maximum clarity on Iraq’s military and political crises, which cannot be separated from each other. Mr. Bush, we fear, isn’t looking for the truth, only for ways to confound the public, scare Democrats into dropping their demands for a sound exit strategy, and prolong the war until he leaves office. At times, General Petraeus gives the disturbing impression that he, too, is more focused on the political game in Washington than the unfolding disaster in Iraq. That serves neither American nor Iraqi interests.
Mr. Bush, deeply unpopular with the American people, is counting on the general to restore credibility to his discredited Iraq policy. He frequently refers to the escalation of American forces last January as General Petraeus’s strategy — as if it were not his own creation. The situation echoes the way Mr. Bush made Colin Powell — another military man with an overly honed sense of a soldier’s duty — play frontman at the United Nations in 2003 to make the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Bush cannot once again subcontract his responsibility. This is his war.
President Bush often acts as if the “generals on the ground” are responsible for determining the mission. The generals on the ground will determine troop strength, he says. The generals on the ground will decide when the troops can leave. Whatever. This is disingenuous on several levels, but on the most fundamental level Bush is taking advantage of the professionalism of the officers.
The generals don’t decide what the objective is, or what the mission is, or whether the mission is winnable or worth the cost in blood and treasure. That’s the job of civilian politicians — the President and Congress. The job of the generals is to use the resources available to accomplish the mission they are given. They don’t ask, Why are we doing this? What’s the point? That’s not their role.
Frank Rich writes (behind the firewall):
Today the spirit of WHIG [White House Iraq Group] lives. In the stay-the-surge propaganda offensive that crests with this week’s Congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, history is repeating itself in almost every particular. Even the specter of imminent “nuclear holocaust” has been rebooted in President Bush’s arsenal of rhetorical scare tactics.
The new WHIG is a 24/7 Pentagon information “war room” conceived in the last throes of the Rumsfeld regime and run by a former ABC News producer. White House “facts” about the surge’s triumph are turning up unsubstantiated in newspapers and on TV. Instead of being bombarded with dire cherry-picked intelligence about W.M.D., this time we’re being serenaded with feel-good cherry-picked statistics offering hope. Once again the fix is in. Mr. Bush’s pretense that he has been waiting for the Petraeus-Crocker report before setting his policy is as bogus as his U.N. charade before the war. And once again a narrowly Democratic Senate lacks the votes to stop him.
As always with this White House, telegenic artificial realities are paramount. Exhibit A, of course, was last weekend’s precisely timed “surprise” presidential junket: Mr. Bush took the measure of success “on the ground here in Anbar” (as he put it) without ever leaving a heavily fortified American base….
… Last week the administration and its ideological surrogates were tireless in trashing the nonpartisan G.A.O. report card that found the Iraqi government flunking most of its benchmarks.
Those benchmarks, the war’s dead- enders now say, are obsolete anyway. But what about the president’s own benchmarks? Remember “as the Iraqis stand up, we’ll stand down”? General Petraeus was once in charge of the Iraqi Army’s training and proclaimed it “on track and increasing in capacity” three years ago. On Thursday, an independent commission convened by the Republican John Warner and populated by retired military officers and police chiefs reported that Iraqi forces can take charge no sooner than 12 to 18 months from now, and that the corrupt Iraqi police force has to be rebuilt from scratch. Let us not forget, either, Mr. Bush’s former top-down benchmarks for measuring success: “an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.” On that scorecard, he’s batting 0 for 3.
What’s surprising is not that this White House makes stuff up, but that even after all the journalistic embarrassments in the run-up to the war its fictions can still infiltrate the real news.
Through its many surrogates and apologists in media, the Bushies are still able to get enough disinformation and happy talk into the news to keep everyone confused. They can’t govern their way out of a wet paper bag, but they’re world champs at catapulting the propaganda.