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Spinning Failure Into Success One "Surge" at a Time

By April 8, 2008

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Army Gen. David Petraeus, spokesman for the Bush-McCain troop escalation in Iraq

Graphic Denial: No matter how contradictory the evidence out of Iraq, Army Gen. David Petraeus, chief spokesman of the Bush-McCain troop escalation in Iraq, claims progress, however "reversible," is being made, but it can be sustained only if the troop draw-down the "surge" promised is replaced with an indefinite demi-surge. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sometime between his morning appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee and his afternoon appearance before the Foreign Relations Committee today, someone must've gotten to Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of America's occupation forces in Iraq, and told him that his talk of an open-ended demi-"surge" troop commitment in Iraq wouldn't play well with the public. Petraeus had said that not only would the draw-down from the escalation have to be halted after July, at 140,000 troops (10,000 more than pre-escalation levels). But any resumption of draw-downs would have to be delayed indefinitely.

By afternoon, when newspapers' web sites were blaring headlines playing off of Sen. Carl Levin's sum-up (“a war plan with no exit strategy”), Petraeus was slightly more specific: the draw-down would have to stop for at least 45 days, possibly longer. How long? He wouldn't say. But progress in Iraq was, to quote the lead sound byte in the Petraeus script, “fragile and reversible.” So troops would have to stay longer.

The Bush-McCain Ticket to "Surge"

That wasn't the way President Bush and John McCain sold their idea of the troop escalation back in January 2007. "If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home," Bush said in his prime-time speech to the nation on Jan. 10, 2007.

Bush went further:

Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship. But victory in Iraq will bring something new in the Arab world -- a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties, and answers to its people. A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them -- and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and our grandchildren.
Three days earlier, in the Washington Post, McCain made his pitch for more troops and set the standard of success that the escalation would have to achieve:
Only by controlling the violence can we pave the way for a political settlement. But once the government wields greater authority it will be incumbent upon Iraqi leaders to take significant steps on their own. These include a commitment to go after the militias, a reconciliation process for insurgents and Baathists, more equitable distribution of government resources, provincial elections that will bring Sunnis into government, and a large increase in employment-generating economic projects.
In other words, the Bush-McCain ticket made a double-deal with the American public: Agree to the troop escalation as one more chance to make the Iraq thing work, and troops can begin coming home in earnest. Plus, Iraq will get going with its reconciliation and democracy thing. It wasn't a second chance so much as what felt like a tenth or a twelfth, but Americans, who have a soft heart and an overly trusting disposition toward their presidential seals, went along, reluctantly.

Perpetual Extensions for Perpetual War

Had the gambit worked, Petraeus would have come to Congress last September and said that all was going according to plan, that the troop draw-down could begin soon. He didn't.

Instead, Petraeus asked for an extension of the escalation even though few of the benchmarks the Bush administration set out to measure success were being met--and least among them, Iraqi reconciliation. Petraeus and Bush asked for more time. They were granted that time.

Today's testimony was not about whether the escalation was successful, but whether the extension it received in September was bearing any fruit. The only way one could logically say that, yes, the escalation was demonstrably bearing fruit was to also say that troops could now start coming home: that the situation was stabilized enough, and Iraqi troops competent enough, to allow for a draw-down. Instead, the draw-down of the "surge" can't even be brought down below the number of troops in Iraq before the escalation, leaving the Iraq strategy with a net increase in troop deployments and a net decrease in stability: the events of the last week of March and the first week of April--a surge in intra-Shiite bloodletting--prove how preposterous Petraeus' claims of Iraqi reconciliation are, and what a fraudulent bill of goods Bush-McCain sold the American public.

Petraeus' testimony: Playing on Americans' Good Will

Petraeus' performance before the Senate committees on Tuesday, along with that of Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, was on spin cycle from start to finish. But it did little to dispel the obvious. Baghdad is burning again. Iraqi troops are too sectarian, too undisciplined, too reflective of their Shiite-dominated government, to keep order (or not to provoke outbreaks of violence). And American troops are too dogmatically committed to unattainable objectives to allow for a reasoned, flexible withdrawal.

The question is whether this performance was one charade too many. But the American public, let alone the Congress and its alleged Democratic majority, have shown themselves endlessly susceptible to the Iraq scam. It's as if neither public nor Congress can bring themselves to admit the staggering size of the failure following such a staggering investment in American lucre, good will and, not least, blood. So they do the next best thing to admission. They surrender to the Bush administration's fraudulent promises and hope against hope that maybe this time something, anything, can come of Iraq's Thousand and One catastrophes short of abject defeat.

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