Blocking the Exits

Warren P. Strobel writes for McClatchy Newspapers about yesterday’s Senate hearings:

Much to the frustration of the senators — mostly Democrats, but including a few Republicans — who grilled them Tuesday, neither the general nor the diplomat outlined a strategy for putting Iraq back together or a timetable for bringing U.S. troops home. …

… lawmakers complained that neither Petraeus nor Crocker could explain how the Iraq war fits into Bush’s war on terror or how it’s protecting Americans.

One of the most jaw-dropping moments in the hours of back-and-forth came when retiring Sen. John Warner, R-Va., asked Petraeus whether his proposal for Iraq — including a reduction of U.S. troops to pre-surge levels of 130,000 — would make the United States safer.

“Sir, I don’t know, actually,” Petraeus replied.

Fred Kaplan writes,

Two things stand out in Petraeus’ response. First, he refused to indulge in President Bush’s spurious rhetoric about how we’re fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we don’t have to fight them here. Second, he was, in effect, telling the senators: I am doing what soldiers do; I am trying my best to accomplish the mission; the mission is related to the policy, and the policy isn’t mine.

This is what President Bush is hoping no one notices. He speaks of the “commanders on the ground” as if they were the ones setting policy. For example, he said in August 2006:

If we leave before the job will be done, those who sacrificed, those brave volunteers who sacrifice in our United States military will have died in vain. And as General Abizaid has said, if we leave before the job is done — if we leave the streets of Baghdad, the enemy will follow us to our own streets in America. (Applause.)

The stakes are high. I believe the only way we can lose is if we leave before the job is done. That’s what I believe. I’m making decisions based upon the recommendations of commanders on the ground. I want to assure you, polls and focus groups will not decide the Iraq policy in the global war on terror. (Applause.)

He’s saying he is setting policy based on what the commanders tell him. But Petraeus clearly said it’s not up to the military to set policy. His testimony was not about the worthiness of the mission, but about how the mission given him might be achieved (short answer: he’s not sure, but he’ll get back to us in March).

Back to Kaplan:

In one sense, today’s hearings dealt President George W. Bush a harsh blow. Many of the senators’ questions dealt with strategic issues, which Petraeus and Crocker—through no fault of their own—could not really answer to anyone’s full satisfaction. Even the vast majority of Republican senators at least cocked their eyebrows.

Nearly all the senators seemed to recognize that the few, much-vaunted successes—especially in Anbar province, where Sunni tribes have joined with U.S. forces to defeat al-Qaida terrorists—have little to do with the main issues of this war: sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites and the failure of the central government to mediate, much less settle, those conflicts. As Richard Lugar, the foreign relations committee’s ranking Republican put it, “The progress may be beside the point.” The U.S. troops may be “like a farmer planting crops on flood plains.”

Yet in another sense, Bush will probably recover from the blow without much damage. As counterinsurgency theorists understand, a combatant can win every battle and still lose the war. Similarly, the Senate Democrats won on points in today’s clashes on the issues, yet Bush will probably win the ultimate contest: the vote, in the coming weeks, on whether to continue with his plan.

In recent weeks, Bush has put all his chips on Petraeus’ testimony. He will no doubt now endorse the commander’s “proposal” for a modest troop reduction and pretend that it constitutes a compromise (even though it was physically inevitable). And he will repeatedly cite the testimony from Petraeus and Crocker that “some progress” is being made and that further withdrawals might be disastrous.

Headlines today say that Bush will announce a troop withdrawal in an address to the nation Thursday night. What this means is that sometime, probably July 2008, the troop levels in Iraq will go back to what they were a year ago, before the “surge.” Some progress. And it’s my understanding that the numbers are being determined by the fact that we’re running out of troops who haven’t been “rotated” past exhaustion, not by any real change in policy.

No More Mr. Nice Blog:

You realize, of course, that President Bush’s planned withdrawal of some troops next summer is going to be all over your TV screen, in an attempt to influence the ’08 election.

Troops rotate into and out of Iraq all the time, but I’m guessing that the Bushies are going to try to make these trips home into big, visually exciting spectacles, preferably featuring him and/or Laura and/or various GOP luminaries, that will be carried live and then rerun endlessly. The White House is going to try to create images that will have the same impact as the pictures of returning Vietnam POWs and the “split-screen” release of the Iranian hostages just as Ronald Reagan was being sworn in as president.

I remember during the Vietnam War, from time to time President Nixon would announce that X number of troops were coming home from Vietnam that month, as if this were an extraordinary thing. This announcement would be followed up by journalists (we still had a few back then) explaining that the number X represented the normal troop rotation. I don’t think Nixon fooled anybody, except those who were predisposed to being fooled. But, like I said, we still had real journalists in those days.

The simple fact is that Petraeus couldn’t say when all troops could be withdrawn, because that’s not a military consideration. It’s a policy consideration. And he doesn’t set the policy.

Back to Warren Strobel of McClatchy:

“Are we going to continue to invest American blood and treasure at the same rate we are doing now, for what? The president said let’s buy time. Buy time? For what?” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a Vietnam veteran who also will retire next year.

Most experts argue that stabilizing Iraq requires two things above all: political reconciliation among Shiite Muslims, Sunnis and Kurds, and Iraqi security forces that can stand on their own.

Petraeus and Crocker could promise neither.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., asked Crocker whether ethnic reconciliation is likely in the 16 months that Bush has left in office.

“Senator, I could not put a timeline on it or a target date,” Crocker replied. There are “hopeful signs,” he said, but “how long that is going to take and, frankly, even ultimately whether it will succeed, I can’t predict.”

Cost-benefit analysis, anyone?

15 thoughts on “Blocking the Exits

  1. All that’s happened and is happening in this country proves that “Catch 22” wasn’t a novel. It was more like a fictionalized journalistic expose of the military and our leaders…
    Joseph Heller, where are you when we need you?
    It’s no wonder Hunter Thompson decided to eat lead. He figured the bullet couldn’t do any more damage to his brain than what’s been happening to this country.
    God, I miss his Gonzo journalism. Now, journalism is just gone…

  2. I can’t give you a link for it, but I saw an article a month or three ago, where essentially the strategy for fighting this war would shift from boots on the ground to planes and missiles in the sky. In other words, push button warfare instead of traditional in-your-face fighting.

    And so, while troops may actually start coming home, the war itself is going to get bloodier, as bombs from the sky, no matter how smart, are a lot more indiscriminate than a human soldier when it comes to killing. But hey, it’s Iraqi blood, not American. I believe this is already starting to happen, if you study civilian casualties closely. It’s not easy to discern, given the way the civilians are killing each other.

    And so this will intensify the ethical dilemma – Iraq is going to take even more of a beating than before, but fewer Americans will be getting killed. Expect the warmongers to applaud this while the rest of us become even more outraged, because this is only going to make our real security situation worse.

  3. moonbat,
    Thanks for the link:-)
    I was on vacation for a couple of weeks and I couldn’t blog. The laptop I have is for work. Hopefully, I can buy my own next year.

  4. Maha…You’re a little off on Nixon’s “Troop Withdrawls”…

    The White House and Pentagon would make a big deal about reducing the number of “Combat Troops” (first I can remember hearing the term)…

    A Marine’s tour at the time was 13 months…Every unit had people coming and going every month…So when the 3rd Marine Regiment, for example, was selected to go home, only the troopers with less than 4 months to do got to leave…The others were spread around to other “Grunt” outfits…

    That meant only about them got pulled…They then filled up the “3rd Marines” with “Short-Timers” from any and all Marine units in I Corps…Two young Marines who worked for me went home a couple months early as supposed Grunts…

    Bottom line was…In three months the numbers were as they would have been anyway…

  5. Even Shays is admitting it’s about the OIL

    Someday somebody’s thesis will reveal the secret workings of Cheney’s Energy Task Force.

    So why don’t we transfer the billing of Blackwater Security to Exxon-Mobil. After all it’s for their benefit. If it was for ours, we’d be dumping $$ into R&D for alternatives, including nuclear. Coal isn’t going to bail us out of this, and neither is blood.

  6. In three months the numbers were as they would have been anyway…

    Pretty much what I said. I don’t remember the details as well as you do.

  7. Much as I detest the Bushistas, I must admit my awe at their skill with media messaging.

    Who else could have taken the independent decision of the Anbar leaders to ally with us (for now), and the logistical reality that we need to start bringing troops home as their 15 month deployments run out, and turned it into such a story of ‘progress’, and ‘compromise’?

    Somehow, though he actually had nothing to do with it, W can claim that he’s making progress and will be bringin’ our boys home real soon now. My brain hurts.

  8. “…he’s making progress and will be bringin’ our boys home real soon now.”

    MacArthur promised to have the “boys home for Christmas” in 1950…

    Don’t count any chickens, just yet…

  9. Oh, I’m not counting, just admiring how good they make Bush look by making the claim. The pose is ever so much more important to them than the reality, as they’ve shown us over and over.

  10. The Rs are like a company with a lousy product but over the top marketing. “But it’s a good shit sandwich, Mrs Wilson!”

  11. How come no one’s talking about what’s going to be said and decided in March? This is the next big “strategic moment” as outlined by Petraeus, and probably the last one before the 08 election. We can assume that things in the reality-based community will be pretty much the same by then–i.e. illusory security gains, failing central gov’t–but this will be the opportunity for Bush to really determine the political dynamics that will prevail in the Prez’l campaign. Suppose he promises major troop reductions beginning in October? Lights out for Dems?

    Put nothing past this crowd when it comes to creating political “battlefield geometry”

  12. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., asked Crocker whether ethnic reconciliation is likely in the 16 months that Bush has left in office.

    “Senator, I could not put a timeline on it or a target date,” Crocker replied. There are “hopeful signs,” he said, but “how long that is going to take and, frankly, even ultimately whether it will succeed, I can’t predict.”

    Jeez, the animosities will be around for centuries. This is what the “war will work” crowd…the architects of the disaster were duly warned about.

    These positive, encouraging, hopeful signs have very little to do with there being any change in direct in this war. One thing’s for sure — that when someone is given the assignment to go out and find a “hopeful sign”, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will come back with one.

  13. I wish someone could locate the quotes from Bush about what the surge was supposed to accomplish – “create a climate where reconciliation is possible? ” and how benchmarks would be assigned to measure progress. As he has all war long, he keeps shifting the objectives and the scale for measuring progress. What would thrill me to euphoria, is for the trail of lies and double-talk be documented and ALL the Democratic presidential candidates sign off on their opposition to the outright deceit. Have every Dem candidate take George’s own words and call him a liar.

  14. Cost-benefit analysis, anyone?

    Well, the costs are tremendous,actually incalculable.. and the benefits?..I can’t see anything tangible now, or in the future.

    Maybe America’s arsenal rotating their munitions stock? And I’m almost certain that mortuary services are enjoying some sort of financial boost.

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