The chief commander on the ground in Iraq is less than optimistic. Ewen MacAskill reports for The Guardian:
The top US commander in Iraq admitted yesterday that the conflict would “get harder before it gets easier”, providing further ammunition for Democrats determined to face down George Bush in their constitutional clash over the Iraq war.
Hours before the Senate passed legislation ordering troops to start leaving Iraq by October, General David Petraeus said the conflict was “the most complex and challenging I have ever seen”. Gen Petraeus, who was put in charge of the Baghdad troop “surge” to pacify the Iraqi capital, warned of the enormous commitment and sacrifice facing the US in Iraq.
His downbeat assessment, in contrast with Mr Bush’s optimistic statements, stiffened the resolve of Democrats in Congress pushing for an early withdrawal of US troops. Yesterday the Senate followed the House of Representatives in backing legislation that calls for most US troops to be out by spring 2008.
Did Gen Petraeus’s downbeat assessment appear in American news media? I don’t believe I’ve seen it.
Petraeus was in Washington this past week to brief senators and congressmen on the current situation on the ground in Iraq. He was supposed to be shoring up support for the war, but it seems he wasn’t entirely successful. David Sanger reports for the New York Times that even the White House seems more cautious.
The Bush administration will not try to assess whether the troop increase in Iraq is producing signs of political progress or greater security until September, and many of Mr. Bushâ€™s top advisers now anticipate that any gains by then will be limited, according to senior administration officials.
In interviews over the past week, the officials made clear that the White House is gradually scaling back its expectations for the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The timelines they are now discussing suggest that the White House may maintain the increased numbers of American troops in Iraq well into next year.
That prospect would entail a dramatically longer commitment of frontline troops, patrolling the most dangerous neighborhoods of Baghdad, than the one envisioned in legislation that passed the House and Senate this week. That vote, largely symbolic because Democrats do not have the votes to override the promised presidential veto, set deadlines that would lead to the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of March 2008.
Gen. Petraeus said of Mr. Malaki, “Heâ€™s not the Prime Minister Tony Blair of Iraq.” Make of that what you will.
Meanwhile, retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom says President Bush should sign the funding bill that Congress just passed. Kasie Hunt reports for the Associated Press (emphasis added):
“I hope the president seizes this moment for a basic change in course and signs the bill Congress has sent him,” Odom said, delivering the Democrats’ weekly radio address….
… The general accused Bush of squandering U.S. lives and helping Iran and al-Qaida when he invaded Iraq.
“The challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq; it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place,” he said. “The president has let (the Iraq war) proceed on automatic pilot, making no corrections in the face of accumulating evidence that his strategy is failing and cannot be rescued. He lets the United States fly further and further into trouble, squandering its influence, money and blood, facilitating the gains of our enemies.”
Odom said he doesn’t favor congressional involvement in the execution of foreign and military policy, but argued that Bush had been derelict in his responsibilities. This week Congress passed an Iraq war spending bill that would require Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq on Oct. 1.
Gen. Odom was Director of the National Security Agency during the Reagan Administration, among other things.
Update: This is from Democrats.Senate.gov:
What Military Experts Are Saying about the Supplemental and the President’s Plan to Veto It
“This bill gives General Petraeus great leverage for moving the Iraqi government down the more disciplined path laid out by the Iraq Study Group. The real audience for the timeline language is Prime Minister al-Maliki and the elected government of Iraq. The argument that this bill aides the enemy is simply not mature – nobody on the earth underestimates the United States’ capacity for unpredictability. It may further create some sense of urgency in the rest of our government, beginning with the State Department.”
–Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, USA, Ret.
“The bill gives the president a chance to pull back from a disastrous course, re-orient US strategy to achieve regional stability, and win help from many other countries — the only way peace will eventually be achieved.”
–LT GEN Wm. E. Odom, USA, Ret.
“Supporting the Iraq Supplemental Bill not only reflects the thinking of the Iraq Study Group but puts teeth to the phrase “Supporting the Troops”. By establishing timelines it returns the responsibility of self preservation and regional sovereignty to the people of Iraq and their government.”
–Maj. Gen. Mel Montano, USANG, Ret
“This important legislation sets a new direction for Iraq. It acknowledges that America went to war without mobilizing the nation, that our strategy in Iraq has been tragically flawed since the invasion in March 2003, that our Army and Marine Corps are at the breaking point with little to show for it, and that our military alone will never establish representative government in Iraq. The administration got it terribly wrong and I applaud our Congress for stepping up to their constitutional responsibilities.”
–Maj. Gen. John Batiste, USA, Ret.
“We must commence a coordinated phased withdrawal of U.S. combat troops and condition our continuing support of the Iraqi government on its fulfilling the political commitments it has made to facilitate reconciliation of the contending secular factions. Otherwise, we will continue to be entwined in a hopeless quagmire, with continuing American casualties, which will render our ground forces ineffective.”
–Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, USA Ret.