The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Frank Rich - Will the Democrats Betray Us?

Will the Democrats Betray Us?


SIR, I don't know, actually": The fact that America's surrogate commander in chief, David Petraeus, could not say whether the war in Iraq is making America safer was all you needed to take away from last week's festivities in Washington. Everything else was a verbal quagmire, as administration spin and senatorial preening fought to a numbing standoff.

Not that many Americans were watching. The country knew going in that the White House would win its latest campaign to stay its course of indefinitely shoveling our troops and treasure into the bottomless pit of Iraq. The only troops coming home alive or with their limbs intact in President Bush's troop "reduction" are those who were scheduled to be withdrawn by April anyway. Otherwise the president would have had to extend combat tours yet again, mobilize more reserves or bring back the draft.

On the sixth anniversary of the day that did not change everything, General Petraeus couldn't say we are safer because he knows we are not. Last Sunday, Michael Scheuer, the former chief of the C.I.A.'s Osama bin Laden unit, explained why. He wrote in The Daily News that Al Qaeda, under the de facto protection of Pervez Musharraf, is "on balance" more threatening today that it was on 9/11. And as goes Pakistan, so goes Afghanistan. On Tuesday, just as the Senate hearings began, Lisa Myers of NBC News reported on a Taliban camp near Kabul in an area nominally controlled by the Afghan government we installed. It is training bomb makers to attack America.

Little of this registered in or beyond the Beltway. New bin Laden tapes and the latest 9/11 memorial rites notwithstanding, we're back in a 9/10 mind-set. Bin Laden, said Frances Townsend, the top White House homeland security official, "is virtually impotent." Karen Hughes, the Bush crony in charge of America's P.R. in the jihadists' world, recently held a press conference anointing Cal Ripken Jr. our international "special sports envoy." We are once more sleepwalking through history, fiddling while the Qaeda not in Iraq prepares to burn.

This is why the parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, including those more accurate than Mr. Bush's recent false analogies, can take us only so far. Our situation is graver than it was during Vietnam.

Certainly there were some eerie symmetries between General Petraeus's sales pitch last week and its often-noted historical antecedent: Gen. William Westmoreland's similar mission for L.B.J. before Congress on April 28, 1967. Westmoreland, too, refused to acknowledge that our troops were caught in a civil war. He spoke as well of the "repeated successes" of the American-trained South Vietnamese military and ticked off its growing number of combat-ready battalions. "The strategy we're following at this time is the proper one," the general assured America, and "is producing results."

Those fabulous results delayed our final departure from Vietnam for another eight years — just short of the nine to 10 years General Petraeus has said may be needed for a counterinsurgency in Iraq. But there's a crucial difference between the Westmoreland show of 1967 and the 2007 revival by General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Westmoreland played to a full and largely enthusiastic house. Most Americans still supported the war in Vietnam and trusted him; so did all but a few members of Congress, regardless of party. All three networks pre-empted their midday programming for Westmoreland's Congressional appearance.

Our Iraq commander, by contrast, appeared before a divided and stalemated Congress just as an ABC News-Washington Post poll found that most Americans believed he would overhype progress in Iraq. No network interrupted a soap opera for his testimony. On cable the hearings fought for coverage with Britney Spears's latest self-immolation and the fate of Madeleine McCann, our latest JonBenet Ramsey stand-in.

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker could grab an hour of prime television time only by slinking into the safe foxhole of Fox News, where Brit Hume chaperoned them on a gloomy, bunkerlike set before an audience of merely 1.5 million true believers. Their "Briefing for America," as Fox titled it, was all too fittingly interrupted early on for a commercial promising pharmaceutical relief from erectile dysfunction.

Even if military "victory" were achievable in Iraq, America could not win a war abandoned by its own citizens. The evaporation of that support was ratified by voters last November. For that, they were rewarded with the "surge." Now their mood has turned darker. Americans have not merely abandoned the war; they don't want to hear anything that might remind them of it, or of war in general. Katie Couric's much-promoted weeklong visit to the front produced ratings matching the CBS newscast's all-time low. Angelina Jolie's movie about Daniel Pearl sank without a trace. Even Clint Eastwood's wildly acclaimed movies about World War II went begging. Over its latest season, "24" lost a third of its viewers, just as Mr. Bush did between January's prime-time address and last week's.

You can't blame the public for changing the channel. People realize that the president's real "plan for victory" is to let his successor clean up the mess. They don't want to see American troops dying for that cause, but what can be done? Americans voted the G.O.P. out of power in Congress; a clear majority consistently tell pollsters they want out of Iraq. And still every day is Groundhog Day. Our America, unlike Vietnam-era America, is more often resigned than angry. Though the latest New York Times-CBS News poll finds that only 5 percent trust the president to wrap up the war, the figure for the (barely) Democratic-controlled Congress, 21 percent, is an almost-as-resounding vote of no confidence.

Last week Democrats often earned that rating, especially those running for president. It is true that they do not have the votes to overcome a Bush veto of any war legislation. But that doesn't mean the Democrats have to go on holiday. Few used their time to cross-examine General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker on their disingenuous talking points, choosing instead to regurgitate stump sentiments or ask uncoordinated, redundant questions. It's telling that the one question that drew blood — are we safer? — was asked by a Republican, John Warner, who is retiring from the Senate.

Americans are looking for leadership, somewhere, anywhere. At least one of the Democratic presidential contenders might have shown the guts to soundly slap the "General Betray-Us" headline on the ad placed by in The Times, if only to deflate a counterproductive distraction. This left-wing brand of juvenile name-calling is as witless as the "Defeatocrats" and "cut and run" McCarthyism from the right; it at once undermined the serious charges against the data in the Petraeus progress report (including those charges in the same MoveOn ad) and allowed the war's cheerleaders to hyperventilate about a sideshow. "General Betray-Us" gave Republicans a furlough to avoid ownership of an Iraq policy that now has us supporting both sides of the Shiite-vs.-Sunni blood bath while simultaneously shutting America's doors on the millions of Iraqi refugees the blood bath has so far created.

It's also past time for the Democratic presidential candidates to stop getting bogged down in bickering about who has the faster timeline for withdrawal or the more enforceable deadline. Every one of these plans is academic anyway as long as Mr. Bush has a veto pen. The security of America is more important — dare one say it? — than trying to outpander one another in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The Democratic presidential candidates in the Senate need all the unity and focus they can muster to move this story forward, and that starts with the two marquee draws, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It's essential to turn up the heat full time in Washington for any and every legislative roadblock to administration policy that they and their peers can induce principled or frightened Republicans to endorse.

They should summon the new chief of central command (and General Petraeus's boss), Adm. William Fallon, for tough questioning; he is reportedly concerned about our lapsed military readiness should trouble strike beyond Iraq. And why not grill the Joint Chiefs and those half-dozen or so generals who turned down the White House post of "war czar" last fall? The war should be front and center in Congress every day.

Mr. Bush, confident that he got away with repackaging the same bankrupt policies with a nonsensical new slogan ("Return on Success") Thursday night, is counting on the public's continued apathy as he kicks the can down the road and bides his time until Jan. 20, 2009; he, after all, has nothing more to lose. The job for real leaders is to wake up America to the urgent reality. We can't afford to punt until Inauguration Day in a war that each day drains America of resources and will. Our national security can't be held hostage indefinitely to a president's narcissistic need to compound his errors rather than admit them.

The enemy votes, too. Cataclysmic events on the ground in Iraq, including Thursday's murder of the Sunni tribal leader Mr. Bush embraced two weeks ago as a symbol of hope, have never arrived according to this administration's optimistic timetable. Nor have major Qaeda attacks in the West. It's national suicide to entertain the daydream that they will start doing so now.

Will Iraq sink the GOP?

Will Iraq sink the GOP?
Unhappiness with the war cost Republicans in '06, and now they must face it again in '08.
Ronald Brownstein

September 16, 2007

Next summer, less than four months before the November election, there will still be about as many American troops fighting in Iraq as there were on the day of the Democratic sweep in the November 2006 election. That is the most politically significant fact that emerged from last week's congressional hearings with Gen. David H. Petraeus. The general said that from now until at least the middle of July, he plans to maintain about as many troops in Iraq as were in the field in the fall of 2006 -- about 140,000 in all. President Bush endorsed that strategy in his speech Thursday.

Those plans virtually assure that Iraq will dominate the presidential and congressional campaigns and divide the parties as much in 2008 as it did in 2006 and 2004.

"What this guarantees is that Iraq is still going to be as front and center in the general election as it is today," said Gregory Craig, a former State Department director of policy planning for President Clinton who now advises Sen. Barack Obama. "If there are 130,000 or more American troops in Iraq next summer, there are going to be comparable casualties and uncertainty about the future. So it is going to loom large at the expense of every other issue."

The scenario Petraeus presented to Congress could create some strains for Democrats. Unless Congress can force Bush to accelerate troop withdrawals, which seems less likely than ever after last week's hearings, antiwar activists will grow increasingly frustrated with party leaders. That could pressure Democrats toward positions that alienate general-election swing voters disillusioned about the war but not ready to entirely abandon Iraq (though Obama avoided that trap in his detailed Iraq speech last week).

But the Petraeus testimony clearly creates the greatest political risks, and most difficult choices, for Republicans. GOP presidential and congressional candidates face the dangerous choice of either defending the president or distancing themselves from him as he pursues a largely "stay the course" strategy almost two full years after impatience with the war helped Democrats seize control of the House and Senate. Petraeus repeatedly refused to commit to further troop reductions after the end of the "surge" in July, and while acknowledging that the American mission will eventually shift from front-line combat toward support and training of Iraqi forces, he refused to establish any schedule for such a change. With those positions, Petraeus and Bush provided powerful talking points for Democrats arguing that the only way to change direction in Iraq is to defeat Republicans in next year's election. "It is pretty clear this president isn't going to change course unless he is forced to," said Democratic Rep. Tom Allen, who is already marshaling that argument in his campaign against Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

On the morning after the disastrous 2006 election, not many Republicans could have imagined that they would be facing the voters in 2008 with roughly the same number of troops in Iraq shouldering roughly the same responsibilities. "We were certainly hopeful that we wouldn't be," said Tom Ingram, the longtime chief strategist for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who faces reelection next year. "And I don't think we expected to be."

Few Republicans doubt that maintaining such a large troop deployment to Iraq next year will strain America's patience. But Republicans optimistic about the war believe two other factors could blunt that discontent. One is that the number of troops will still be declining next year, even if they only revert to the pre-surge level. And the administration, without committing to any specifics, has left open the possibility of additional reductions later in 2008. Bush and Petraeus said that next March they will consider further withdrawals that would begin after July, and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said Friday that he envisions even deeper reductions by the end of next year than the general and the president had seemed to imply.

The other mitigating factor would be further progress in securing Iraq. Pete Wehner, until recently the White House director of strategic initiatives, says that if the sustained deployment produces continued security gains, Republicans will benefit. "The only way this can turn out to be an issue that doesn't deeply injure the Republican Party is if Iraq is a calmer country and you have legitimate, demonstrable progress," said Wehner, now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank.

But other Republicans are dubious that any security gains in Iraq will be sufficient to fundamentally reverse the negative public verdict on the war -- especially if they are unaccompanied by signs of the political reconciliation there that all sides consider the prerequisite for long-term stability. Most recent polls have found a modest but measurable increase in public optimism about the war's direction, and that trend could advance further after Petraeus' high-profile presentation. But the overall numbers remain dismal, and the unremitting tide of civilian and military casualties in Iraq could erode any White House gains in the months ahead.

That may help explain why a surprising number of Republican elected officials and operatives openly challenged the path Petraeus and Bush outlined. "This has been a good week for the administration, but the fundamentals haven't changed, which is that a lot of voters -- most importantly, independent voters -- aren't happy with the fact that we've got American troops dying there, and they can't quite figure out what they are there for," said Glen Bolger, a prominent GOP pollster who specializes in Senate races. "It is going to be extraordinarily advantageous for the Democrats and extraordinarily difficult for the Republicans . . . to still have significant numbers of troops there [during the election]."

Similar, if more cautiously phrased, attitudes were evident last week from Republican senators facing reelection in 2008, such as Alexander, Collins, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Gordon Smith of Oregon and even Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina. All questioned Petraeus' plan and urged the administration to consider either more rapid withdrawals or a shift in the mission of American forces away from front-line combat.

That contrasted with the leading 2008 Republican presidential contenders, each of whom quickly embraced Petraeus' recommendations. With the core Republican voters who dominate the nomination process still broadly supporting the war, the presidential candidates have less flexibility than senators to propose a reduction in the American combat presence. "I think they are all locked into accepting Petraeus' assessment of when that can occur," said a senior advisor to a leading GOP presidential contender.

That assessment points to the most profound effect of Bush's decision last week. Even if some House and Senate Republicans try to establish more autonomous positions, the president has enlisted his party into a political gamble of enormous magnitude. Bush, with his decision to maintain so many troops in Iraq through the final months of his presidency, has virtually dared voters to view the next election as a referendum on the war. Even more than in 2006, the Republicans' fate in 2008 may be held hostage to conditions on the ground in Iraq. "They bet on the surge," Craig said in an assessment few Republicans dispute, "and now they are doubling down."

Ronald Brownstein is The Times' national affairs columnist.,0,7092131,print.column?coll=la-opinion-columnists

A war that isn't really a war, the great humiliation that's ours forever. Is there any upside?

A war that isn't really a war, the great humiliation that's ours forever. Is there any upside?

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist

Friday, September 14, 2007

We are, of course, mostly fighting against ourselves.

It must be repeated every so often, just as a painful, necessary, ego-tweaking reminder: Iraq was never a war. Not really, not in any sense that mattered or that we could actually define and understand or to which we could truly submit ourselves or our national identity.

It never mattered how many little American flags appeared on how many bloated Chevy Avalanches, how many right-wing radio shows found a new reason to pule, how many furiously blindered uber-patriots happily ignored all the harsh words from all those naysaying generals or even all the "turncoat" anti-war Republicans and insisted we're really over there to fight some sort of great Islamic demon no one can actually see or locate or define but that we must, somehow, attempt to destroy -- even though doing so only seems to make the situation far, far worse.

There was never any coherent, justifiable heroic cause. Indeed, the truth about Iraq, as evidenced by Gen. David Petreaus' muted, bleak testimony before Congress just this week, is much more simple, nefarious, pathetic. Iraq is, was, and forever will be our very own massive strategic blunder, a failed land grab for position and power in a tinderbox region defined by furious instability and corruption and death.

It's the great unspoken subtext. Iraq has always been a war between our dueling national identities, a battle over how we are to move and breathe and behave in the new millennium. Are we really this violently paranoid bully, this rogue pre-emptive screw-em-all ideological war machine defined by the dystopian Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld vision of permanent, ongoing global conflict?

Or do we try, instead, to move forward and reinvent ourselves over and over again as the world's most commited, forceful peacekeeper, ever striving for balance and cooperation and tact, even in the face of hardship and fundamentalist rage, refusing to be taunted and dragged down lest we take the bait and lose our minds and engage in torture and misprision and ultraviolence and become little better, ideologically speaking, than our taunters? Have we already made our choice?

Because the truth is, we are well past the point of salvaging anything noble or honest from Bush's massive, historic debacle. We have only this brutal reality: Iraq is, and forever will be, one of the most extraordinary wastes in all of American history.

A waste of money. A waste of time. A stunning, almost unspeakable waste of life. A waste of resources and intellectual capital and a massive waste of national spirit. A waste of energy and hope and a giant squandering of any goodwill or empathy our former allies might've had for America in its post-9/11 state. Heard it all before? Sure you have.

Some scenes remain almost comical in their absurdity. Perhaps you saw that money, those enormous, ridiculous piles of American cash, the photos floating around of American soldiers guarding giant, shrink-wrapped pallets of U.S. currency known as "cashpaks," each reportedly containing about $1.6 million in stacks of $100 bills, all airlifted by the ton straight from the Federal Reserve and set down in the Iraqi sun like rotting fruit, small mountains of your tax dollars earmarked to buy off various warlords and pay for covert, unauthorized operations all over the Middle East in an attempt to buy our way into some sort of impossible, forced stability. Right.

Or maybe it's the bodies, the sheer waste of American flesh, not merely the thousands of U.S. dead or even the countless tens of thousands of dead Iraqi citizens but also the lesser-known horrors, like the epidemic of brain-damaged U.S. soldiers, thousands of them, so many that they're becoming their own category of study in medical textbooks given how they're beginning to exhibit combinations of trauma doctors have never seen before.

What a recruitment poster this is. Come fight in the American military. We're exhausted, overstretched, bewildered, have lowered our entrance barrier to accept D-grade students and former inmates, have almost zero idea what we're actually fighting for, and serve under a Commander in Chief who cares more about trying to shore up his wretched legacy than for the loss of American life. Oh and by the way, odds are extremely high you will return home permanently wounded, traumatized, or brain damaged. How very proud we are.

We all know the current reality: We are not safer. We are not better off in any measurable way. We are not stronger or more unified or prouder or more respected or healthier or wealthier or wiser and we have done exactly zero to stem the flood of radical Islam or the general outpouring of global disgust at what America has become under this president. This is our scar. This is our great American shame.

So, what do you do with it? Or with the prospect of still more weeks, months, even years of this dull slog of war? Because the fact is, as Petreaus' testimony essentially confirmed, we will be in Iraq at least through the (blessed) end of Bush's nightmare term, and likely well beyond, given how entrenched and ensnared our forces have become.

Perhaps we can take the long view, the wide view, the spiritual or karmic view, even, insofar as the short and linear view has become so stifling and deadly and useless. Perhaps this is the only way.

Because truly, many in the alternative set, the lightworkers and the gurus and the healers and the deep teachers, those who think outside the war room and beyond the bland academic platitudes, these people tend see Iraq, BushCo, the American right and all the sanctimonious bleakness surrounding them as merely the inky remnants of a passing disease, the last, vicious gasp of a dying ideology, the violent struggle of resistance that always erupts before any great cosmic shift.

Which is to say: The screeching of the Christian right, the shrill alarmism from cultural conservatives regarding everything from sex and drugs and music to gays and nipples and creationism, the rejection of science, the attacks on women's rights, the abuse of the environment, all the way up to the bleakest and ugliest manisfestation of all, a brutal and unwinnable war -- taken as a whole, these can, if you so choose, be seen as merely the embers of a hugely failed -- and yes, nearly extinct -- worldview.

Here is the hesitant optimism, the hint of the new, the tentative suggestion that all is not lost: By many measures, the worst of it is over. There really is light coming, a new awareness, a shift away from the bleakness and the rot and the wallowing in bland violence. Perhaps you can feel it. Or perhaps you need to be ready to feel it. Either way, it's there. You have but to do the most easy/difficult thing of all: you must look behind the veil, see the two dueling Americas, and make your choice.

Friday, September 14, 2007

It Came From Planet Bush

It Came From Planet Bush

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, September 14, 2007; 1:12 PM

In the alternate universe that President Bush occupies, he gave a smashing speech last night.

Over there, the people of Iraq need our help to save them from the al Qaeda terrorists who intend to overthrow their brave and united government on the way to attacking America. It's a battle of good versus evil. We have 36 countries fighting alongside us. And the fight is going very well indeed. Ordinary life is returning to Baghdad.

A few more things about Bush's universe: There, the president can make things true simply by solemnly pronouncing them from the Oval Office. He can reach out to his critics just by saying he is doing so. And people believe him.

But over here in the real world, things are different.

Iraq is mostly ruled by armed gangs, not a central government. American troops are dying in the crossfire as the country continues to violently disintegrate along ethnic and sectarian lines. We're in it pretty much alone. There's no end in sight. And the real al Qaeda is regrouping in Pakistan.

President Bush is trying and failing to rally support for a war that the majority of Americans have concluded is not worth fighting. He's not going to change anyone's mind because he's too stubborn to change his own. And in any case, his credibility is shot to hell.
Jaw Droppers

Here's the text of his speech last night, his eighth prime-time address on Iraq.

Bush opened with this astonishing vision: "In Iraq, an ally of the United States is fighting for its survival. Terrorists and extremists who are at war with us around the world are seeking to topple Iraq's government, dominate the region, and attack us here at home."

In reality, the nearly powerless central government is endangered and marginalized not by terrorists but by internal division. And al Qaeda in Iraq, an insurgent group with nominal ties to the real al Qaeda, is in no position to take over the country, not to mention the region. There is also no evidence that they have any interest in attacking us at home.

Said Bush: "One year ago, much of Baghdad was under siege. . . . Today, . . . ordinary life is beginning to return."

To call anything in today's Baghdad even vaguely normal is flatly outrageous.

Said Bush: "The government has not met its own legislative benchmarks -- and in my meetings with Iraqi leaders, I have made it clear that they must."

But he's been saying that for a long time. And he has even less leverage now, having made it so abundantly clear that his commitment to Iraq is open-ended.

"Our troops in Iraq are performing brilliantly. Along with Iraqi forces, they have captured or killed an average of more than 1,500 enemy fighters per month since January."

Body counts are a notoriously suspect way of measuring success in an armed conflict -- particularly one where it can be hard to tell enemies from civilians. And in the past, Bush has said he would avoid them.

"Now, because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home."

Actually, he has no choice. Pentagon officials have long said Bush's troop buildup could not be sustained past next summer without huge damage to the military.

"The way forward I have described tonight makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together."

As if. It's basically the same "way forward" -- and what most Americans are looking for is a "way out."

"A free Iraq will marginalize extremists, unleash the talent of its people, and be an anchor of stability in the region."

That's what I think of when I think of Iraq: An anchor of stability.

"We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq and the many others who are helping that young democracy."

A recent State Department report shows a total of 25 countries with armed forces in Iraq -- and that includes Slovakia's six soldiers and Moldava's 11. Non-American troops total under 12,000, with most in non-combat roles, compared to over 160,000 Americans.

And quoting the parents of a dead soldier, Bush said: "We believe this is a war of good and evil."

It's a bit more complicated than that.

Galloway commentary: Bush still refuses to admit he was wrong

Galloway commentary: Bush still refuses to admit he was wrong
Joseph L. Galloway | McClatchy Newspapers

last updated: September 14, 2007 12:56:26 PM

Well, now we’ve heard from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker and President George W. Bush, and it appears that the Surge has succeeded — succeeded in guaranteeing that the Iraq War will drag on for the last 16 months of the Bush presidency at a cost of another 1,600 American dead and $13 billion a month.

Extending the war, kicking that can down the road, was President Bush’s only strategic objective last January when he came up with the idea of escalating the number of American troops in Iraq from 130,000 to today’s 170,000. Put simply, the Decider wants to hand off the decision to pull the plug on his unwinnable war to someone else, anyone else.

Four and a half years after this president ordered the invasion of Iraq in a gross act of arrogance and ignorance based on faulty, bogus and politically twisted intelligence — and after repeatedly changing the rationales and objectives of the war as each has failed in turn — we’re going to continue this war because George W. Bush is incapable of admitting that he was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Leaving aside all the happy talk we heard this week about how much better the security picture is in Baghdad, the fact is that the escalation or surge has failed utterly. The stated purpose of this exercise was to buy breathing room for the faltering government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and the paralyzed Iraqi parliament to make progress toward national reconciliation.

The Iraqi government’s job was to use this breathing room, bought at the cost of American lives and American treasure, to step back from sectarian murder and civil war, which it’s failed to do, may be totally incapable of doing and may not even be interested in doing.

Every American commander in Iraq has stated the obvious from Day One: This war cannot be won militarily. It cannot be won by American troops. It cannot be won by wishful thinking. It can only be won by the Iraqis themselves, and their definition of victory is built on dreams of bloody revenge and the slaughter of innocents.

When our president talks of peace returning to the streets of Baghdad, he mistakes the silence of empty, abandoned homes and sectarian cleansing for progress. He confuses the segregation of Shia and Sunni, each in their own ghettos behind tall concrete walls, for progress. More than 3 million Iraqis have been driven from their homes and neighborhoods into exile, internal or external, and this he calls success.

He and the two yes-men, Petraeus and Crocker, crowed about victory in Anbar province as though American tactics and strategy had something to do with a revolutionary turnaround among Sunni tribal sheiks who, long after even the U.S. Marines were admitting defeat in Anbar, acted in their own self-interest and struck against the al Qaeda in Iraq operatives who were killing their people, their own children.

This week, one of the key authors of that change, a man President Bush singled out on his secret fly-by-night visit to Anbar, was blown apart by the enemy near his own home.

All the while, Prime Minister Maliki and his majority Shia government grit their teeth at the spectacle of their American allies supporting and financing and even recruiting the hated Sunnis into the army and police forces, thus making them a harder nut to crack when the night of the long knives, the dark night of Shia revenge, eventually arrives.

The president announced that he was taking Gen. Petraeus’ advice and ordering the beginning of 10-month gradual drawdown of the extra 30,000 troops of the surge — a drawdown that everyone knew was inevitable simply because our Army and Marine Corps cannot sustain that level of troops in Iraq beyond next March.

On the schedule the president laid down this week, we’ll still have some 138,000 troops on the ground in Iraq next July, and 100,000 on January 20, 2009, when Bush’s successor will take office, and he made it clear that he hopes to have agreements in place to ensure an American military presence there for many years to come.

Will Bush get away with this? From all the evidence at hand, the answer, sadly, is yes. Only the Democrats in Congress stand in his way, and they have yet to find their spines, or a semblance of moral courage, or even a sufficient understanding of the Constitution and its clauses on war making and war-financing, to override The Decider.

It’s a long journey from now to January 20, 2009, and the blood of many Americans and even more Iraqis will flow freely and stain the hands of those who allow this insane war to continue at the behest of a stubborn, unseeing, unthinking man from Crawford, Texas.

2007 McClatchy Newspapers

Yes, Surge, That's My Baby: Press Responds to Bush Speech

Yes, Surge, That's My Baby: Press Responds to Bush Speech

By E&P Staff

Published: September 13, 2007 9:55 PM ET

NEW YORK By the time President Bush addressed the nation tonight, little suspense about his remarks remained. What Gen. Petraeus was going to recommend -- continue to "surge" -- was clear weeks ago, and excerpts from the president's remarks were released by the White House this afternoon. So the media had plenty of time to figure out how to respond.

Below we will carry some of the reactions, with new material added at the top.

Nancy Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers

Thursday night, Bush declared success and painted a rosy picture.

There was no mention of a range of government reports, from a National Security Estimate to a Government Accountability Office report and even the testimony this week of U.S. Iraq commander Army Gen. David Petraeus, that has said Iraqi civilian casualties remain high and that it will be years before Iraqi security forces can take control.

Other reports have stressed that Iraqis continue to flee their homes looking for safety at unprecedented rates and that Shiite militias continue to force Sunni Muslims from their homes. Baghdad residents complain that their city has become even more segregated than before the surge, divided now by hastily erected concrete walls to keep rival sects separate.


Editorial, New York Post:

President Bush last night told the nation that he will order a modest reduction in U.S. combat strength in Iraq, but he revealed no dramatic changes in overall policy - effectively consigning the future of Iraq, if not the entire Middle East, to the American presidential political process.

For better or for worse.

Glenn Kessler, opening a Washington Post "fact check" piece:

In his speech last night, President Bush made a case for progress in Iraq by citing facts and statistics that at times contradicted recent government reports or his own words.

For instance, Bush asserted that "Iraq's national leaders are getting some things done," such as "sharing oil revenues with the provinces" and allowing "former Baathists to rejoin Iraq's military or receive government pensions."

Yet his statement ignored the fact that U.S. officials have been frustrated that none of those actions have been enshrined into law -- and that reports from Baghdad this week indicated that a potential deal on sharing oil revenue is collapsing.

David S. Cloud, The New York Times:

It is the second time in 10 months that Mr. Bush has opted for higher troop levels in Iraq than are favored by some of his senior military advisers. Among those who supported a smaller troop increase than the one Mr. Bush ordered last January were members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Now, some of his advisers would prefer setting a faster timetable for drawing the force back down.

Some even suggest that Mr. Bush’s portrayal of the strategy as relying heavily on recommendations from General Petraeus has been more than a little disingenuous, given that it was unlikely that a battlefield commander would repudiate his own plans.

“This approach can work for brief periods in many places, but it’s not a good long-term solution,” said Douglas A. Macgregor, a retired Army colonel and a critic of the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq. He called General Petraeus’s testimony “another deceitful attempt on the part of the generals and their political masters to extend our stay in the country long enough until Bush leaves office.”

The Associated Press, in a 'fact check' article:


"We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq and the many others who are helping that young democracy."


There may well be 36 nations contributing to the cause, but the overwhelming majority of troops come from the United States. For example, Albania has 120 soldiers there and Bulgaria has 150 non-combat troops in Iraq. Bush visited both nations this summer as a thank you.

The United States has 168,000 troops in Iraq.


Editorial, The New York Times:

The White House insisted that President Bush had consulted intensively with his generals and adapted to changing circumstances. But no amount of smoke could obscure the truth: Mr. Bush has no strategy to end his disastrous war and no strategy for containing the chaos he unleashed.

Last night’s speech could have been given any day in the last four years — and was delivered a half-dozen times already. Despite Mr. Bush’s claim that he was offering a way for all Americans to “come together” on Iraq, he offered the same divisive policies — repackaged this time with the Orwellian slogan “return on success.”

Editorial, The Philadelphia Inquirer:

In July, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) snuffed out a flickering bipartisan push for regional diplomacy when he cut off debate on Iraq because Republicans wouldn't accept a date for withdrawing troops.

But only when Congress speaks with a bipartisan voice on the war will it be able to change the course of Bush's tragic policy.

Joseph L. Galloway, syndicated columnist:

Well, now we’ve heard from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker and President George W. Bush, and it appears that the Surge has succeeded -- succeeded in guaranteeing that the Iraq War will drag on for the last 16 months of the Bush presidency at a cost of another 1,600 American dead and $13 billion a month.

Extending the war, kicking that can down the road, was President Bush’s only strategic objective last January when he came up with the idea of escalating the number of American troops in Iraq from 130,000 to today’s 170,000. Put simply, the Decider wants to hand off the decision to pull the plug on his unwinnable war to someone else, anyone else.

Peter Baker and Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post:

The president's upbeat assessment of the situation in Iraq during a nationally televised address last night was shadowed by the killing earlier in the day of a Sunni sheik who led the turnaround of a key province in alliance with U.S. forces. While Bush stressed the positive, his staff finished work on a report it will send to Congress today concluding that Iraq is making "satisfactory" progress on nine of 18 political, economic and security benchmarks, just one more than in July, administration officials said.

Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

For more than four years since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, President Bush has most often defined the U.S. objective there with a single stirring word: "Victory."

"Victory in Iraq is vital for the United States of America," he told cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in May. "Victory in this struggle will require more patience, more courage and more sacrifice," he warned National Guardsmen in West Virginia in July.

But this week, the word "victory" quietly disappeared from the president's vocabulary. It was replaced, instead, by a more ambiguous goal: "Success."

Editorial, The Washington Post:

Mr. Bush's plan offers, at least, the prospect of extending recent gains against al-Qaeda in Iraq, preventing full-scale sectarian war and allowing Iraqis more time to begin moving toward a new political order. For that reason, it is preferable to a more rapid withdrawal. It's not necessary to believe the president's promise that U.S. troops will "return on success" in order to accept the judgment of Mr. Crocker: "Our current course is hard. The alternatives are far worse."

Steven Lee Myers and Carl Hulse, The New York Times:

While touting progress in Iraq, Mr. Bush conceded that his vision for Iraq would be a difficult one to achieve. That acknowledgment was punctuated with macabre timing by the assassination today in Anbar Province, west of Baghdad, of a Sunni sheik, Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, who had led a group of tribal leaders into an alliance with the United States and who had met the president during his trip to Iraq only 10 days ago.

The White House clearly sought to maximize the political benefits from the announcement of a troop reduction, which some military officials said would have had to happen anyway unless the administration took the politically unpalatable step of extending soldiers’ tours in Iraq to longer than 15 months.

Thomas Ricks live-blogged the speech at Here are some of his comments, as they occurred.

--"Return on success"? I dunno, this sounds like a Merrill Lynch slogan to me. Is it annualized?

--He just said that the "way forward" he described makes it possible to bring together both sides of the debate. This leaves me scratching my head a bit. Is the goal of the anti-war movement to get the U.S. military presence in Iraq back to the Jan. 2006 level of about 130,000? I don't think so.

-- Quoting a Dead Soldier: This is dangerous territory. It worries me a bit. It makes me think of the two paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne who were killed in Baghdad the other day, and who signed an op-ed piece in the New York Times that argued against the surge.

--I actually am surprised at how old this speech seems, more than four years into the war. The president is arguing that we have to keep troops in Iraq, and we need to make it a democracy to change the Middle East.

--Democratic Response: 'Indefinite Presence'
That phrase, just uttered by Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, sounds to be like it is going to be the Democratic response to "precipitous withdrawal."

A Look at the Facts Behind Bush's Speech

A Look at the Facts Behind Bush's Speech

AP News

Sep 14, 2007 03:23 EDT

President Bush pointed to political realignment in Iraq's volatile Anbar province as evidence that Iraq is a fight that the United States is winning.

A look at some of Bush's assertions in a national address on Iraq on Thursday.



"Anbar province is a good example of how our strategy is working," Bush said, noting that just last year U.S. intelligence analysts had written off the Sunni area as "lost to al-Qaida."


Early Thursday, the most prominent figure in a U.S.-backed revolt of Sunni sheiks against al-Qaida in Iraq was killed by a bomb planted near his home.

The killing of a chief Anbar ally hours before Bush spoke showed the tenuous and changeable nature of success in Anbar and Iraq at large.

Although Sunni sheiks have defied al-Qaida and largely allied with U.S. forces in Anbar, the province remains violent and al-Qaida remains a threat.

Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha died 10 days after he met with Bush during a surprise visit the U.S. leader made to highlight the turnaround in Anbar. The charismatic young sheik led the Anbar Salvation Council, also known as the Anbar Awakening _ an alliance of clans backing the Iraqi government and U.S. forces.

The Sunni revolt against al-Qaida led to a dramatic improvement in security in Anbar cities such as Fallujah and Ramadi. Iraqis who had been sitting on the sidelines _ or planting roadside bombs to kill Americans _ have now joined with U.S. forces to hunt down al-Qaida in Iraq, whose links to Osama bin Laden's terror network are unclear.

Anbar is not secure, accounting for 18 percent of the U.S. deaths in Iraq so far this year _ making it the second deadliest province after Baghdad.

Bush's top military commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, told Congress this week that Anbar's circumstances are unique and its model cannot be replicated everywhere in Iraq, but "it does demonstrate the dramatic change in security that is possible with the support and participation of local citizens."



Progress in Iraq, including improvement in the performance of the Iraqi army, led to Petraeus' recommendation that "we have now reached the point where we can maintain our security gains with fewer American forces."

Bush said there is still work to be done to improve the Iraqi national police.


A new White House report on Iraq shows slim progress, moving just one more political and security goal into the satisfactory column. Efforts to let former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party rejoin the political process earned the upgrade, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

The report largely tracks a comparable poor assessment in July on 18 benchmarks. The earlier White House report said the Iraqi government had made satisfactory gains toward eight benchmarks, unsatisfactory marks on eight and mixed results on two.

Although the benchmark list is the rubric that the White House and the Iraqi government proposed earlier this year, the Bush administration has recently said it offers a skewed or incomplete view of progress in Iraq.



Bush noted that the government has not met its own legislative benchmarks, but he pointed to limited political progress among Iraq's national leaders. He said Iraq has passed a budget and is sharing oil wealth.


The Government Accountability Office reported last month that Iraq has only partially met a test involving reformation of its budget process, although the State Department, Pentagon and White House disputed the finding.

Some proceeds from Iraq's vast oil and gas resources are being shared among regions, but the country lacks a national framework agreement for the distribution of oil revenues.

A national oil law, which would also invite foreign investment, has been repeatedly promised by Iraq's leaders and frequently mentioned by U.S. officials as a crucial marker of the country's ability to reconcile its ethnic and religious groups.

Iraq's main political parties are deadlocked over the law and the legislation has been sent back to party leaders to see if they can salvage it, an official involved in the talks said Thursday.



"We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq and the many others who are helping that young democracy."


There may well be 36 nations contributing to the cause, but the overwhelming majority of troops come from the United States. For example, Albania has 120 soldiers there and Bulgaria has 150 non-combat troops in Iraq. Bush visited both nations this summer as a thank you.

The United States has 168,000 troops in Iraq.

The real reason Bush is withdrawing troops from Iraq

The real reason Bush is withdrawing troops from Iraq

Bush says his troop drawdown is due to the success of the surge, but his own advisors -- including Gen. Petraeus -- have given a very different explanation.

By Alex Koppelman

Sep. 13, 2007 | On Thursday night, President Bush will deliver a speech about the war in Iraq. Among the speech's major points will be an announcement that roughly 30,000 U.S. troops are coming home from Iraq. The first of those brigades will leave later this month, but the drawdown will reportedly begin in earnest in the spring of 2008.

According to a Thursday afternoon press release from the White House that contained excerpts from the speech, Bush will tell the nation:

"The premise of our strategy is that securing the Iraqi population is the foundation for all other progress ... The goal of the surge is to provide that security -- and to help prepare Iraqi forces to maintain it. As I will explain tonight, our success in meeting these objectives now allows us to begin bringing some of our troops home."

But that explanation doesn't jibe with the facts. No matter what the president or Gen. David Petraeus, the military point man of the surge, may now say about next spring's drawdown, it is not predicated on success. Bringing troops home is not a choice, but a fait accompli. It has been preordained since the beginning of the surge. In fact, the surge was always destined to end next spring because after that there will be no more troops with which to continue it, according to statements from Adm. Michael Mullen, the man Bush recently appointed as chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, not to mention statements from Gen. Petraeus himself.

Many troops now in Iraq have already had their tours of duty extended to 15 months in order to participate in the surge. To continue the surge past next spring, the Pentagon would have to extend those tours even further. To do so would "break" the U.S. military, many experts have warned -- including Adm. Mullen. The administration has repeatedly indicated that those tours would not be extended.

Fred Kaplan, a reporter for Slate who once served as a foreign and defense policy advisor to former Rep. Les Aspin and has written extensively on the shortage of troops available for Iraq, said in an interview that the drawdown was destined to happen regardless of events on the ground in Iraq.

"The 15-month tours will be up," said Kaplan. "The Army was adamantly opposed to extending the tour beyond that [and] there has not been any further mobilization of the Reserves ... So, you know, there's no choice. They've got to come home without any replacement.

"If Bush and all decision-makers had suddenly gone comatose and things were just allowed to run their natural course, this is exactly what would have happened."

Larry Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration and former director of security studies at the Council of Foreign Relations who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, agrees.

"The reason that you've got to cut back is that the only way you've been able to get up to 160,000 given the fact that you also have close to 30,000 in Afghanistan is by extending the tours of people from 12 to 15 months," Korb says. "If you wanted to continue past next spring, next summer, you have to extend tours to 18 months or send people back [to Iraq] before they've had a year home ... [The administration has] said they won't do that."

Korb further points out that even during the wars in Vietnam and Korea, tours were not extended past 12 months; he believes the only way the surge could be continued without doing so, or without cutting soldiers' time back home, is to institute a draft.

Petraeus himself conceded that the surge had definite time limits long before he appeared on Capitol Hill to tout the surge's success earlier this week. A month and a half ago, on July 29, U.S. News' Paul Bedard reported that Petraeus "is telling surge troops that they will not be kept past their 15-month tours. That means the troop drawdown could begin in April, when the first troops in the surge will reach their 15th month on the ground. Officials say that all of the surge brigades reach their 15th month by August 2008."

Petraeus appeared the next day on ABC's "Good Morning America," where, in an interview with Diane Sawyer, he said, "We know that the surge has to come to an end ... General Odierno and I have -- are on the record telling our soldiers that we will not ask for any extension certainly beyond 15 months."

The next day, Adm. Mullen, then the nominee to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee for hearings on his nomination. Mullen, whose nomination was approved by the Senate -- he will take his post as chairman of the JCS next month -- referenced the Petraeus interview and concurred with what Petraeus had said.

"General Petraeus said it yesterday in an interview," Mullen noted. "[T]here is a time element here."

Under questioning by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., Mullen twice repeated the conclusion that the surge had to begin to end in April of 2008.

"You said ... you were going to do your utmost to maintain rotations no more than 12 to 15 months," Reed said to Mullen. "Effectively, that means, as you also suggest, by next April, regardless of the conditions on the ground, the surge will end, because we simply will not be able to put manpower on the ground unless we extend rotations.

"Is that a fair..." Reed continued, before Mullen interjected, according to a transcript of the hearing, "Yes, sir, that's fair."

Later in the hearing, Reed said to Mullen, "[T]his notion that we're going to have an unlimited opportunity to keep forces there at this level, that we're only going to take forces down based upon General Petraeus' suggestion that things are OK now is, I think, fully rebutted by the force structure. Is that an irrational..."

Mullen interrupted Reed again. "I think that's fair, Senator," he said.

A Surge, and Then a Stab

A Surge, and Then a Stab


To understand what’s really happening in Iraq, follow the oil money, which already knows that the surge has failed.

Back in January, announcing his plan to send more troops to Iraq, President Bush declared that “America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.”

Near the top of his list was the promise that “to give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.”

There was a reason he placed such importance on oil: oil is pretty much the only thing Iraq has going for it. Two-thirds of Iraq’s G.D.P. and almost all its government revenue come from the oil sector. Without an agreed system for sharing oil revenues, there is no Iraq, just a collection of armed gangs fighting for control of resources.

Well, the legislation Mr. Bush promised never materialized, and on Wednesday attempts to arrive at a compromise oil law collapsed.

What’s particularly revealing is the cause of the breakdown. Last month the provincial government in Kurdistan, defying the central government, passed its own oil law; last week a Kurdish Web site announced that the provincial government had signed a production-sharing deal with the Hunt Oil Company of Dallas, and that seems to have been the last straw.

Now here’s the thing: Ray L. Hunt, the chief executive and president of Hunt Oil, is a close political ally of Mr. Bush. More than that, Mr. Hunt is a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a key oversight body.

Some commentators have expressed surprise at the fact that a businessman with very close ties to the White House is undermining U.S. policy. But that isn’t all that surprising, given this administration’s history. Remember, Halliburton was still signing business deals with Iran years after Mr. Bush declared Iran a member of the “axis of evil.”

No, what’s interesting about this deal is the fact that Mr. Hunt, thanks to his policy position, is presumably as well-informed about the actual state of affairs in Iraq as anyone in the business world can be. By putting his money into a deal with the Kurds, despite Baghdad’s disapproval, he’s essentially betting that the Iraqi government — which hasn’t met a single one of the major benchmarks Mr. Bush laid out in January — won’t get its act together. Indeed, he’s effectively betting against the survival of Iraq as a nation in any meaningful sense of the term.

The smart money, then, knows that the surge has failed, that the war is lost, and that Iraq is going the way of Yugoslavia. And I suspect that most people in the Bush administration — maybe even Mr. Bush himself — know this, too.

After all, if the administration had any real hope of retrieving the situation in Iraq, officials would be making an all-out effort to get the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to start delivering on some of those benchmarks, perhaps using the threat that Congress would cut off funds otherwise. Instead, the Bushies are making excuses, minimizing Iraqi failures, moving goal posts and, in general, giving the Maliki government no incentive to do anything differently.

And for that matter, if the administration had any real intention of turning public opinion around, as opposed to merely shoring up the base enough to keep Republican members of Congress on board, it would have sent Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, to as many news media outlets as possible — not granted an exclusive appearance to Fox News on Monday night.

All in all, Mr. Bush’s actions have not been those of a leader seriously trying to win a war. They have, however, been what you’d expect from a man whose plan is to keep up appearances for the next 16 months, never mind the cost in lives and money, then shift the blame for failure onto his successor.

In fact, that’s my interpretation of something that startled many people: Mr. Bush’s decision last month, after spending years denying that the Iraq war had anything in common with Vietnam, to suddenly embrace the parallel.

Here’s how I see it: At this point, Mr. Bush is looking forward to replaying the political aftermath of Vietnam, in which the right wing eventually achieved a rewriting of history that would have made George Orwell proud, convincing millions of Americans that our soldiers had victory in their grasp but were stabbed in the back by the peaceniks back home.

What all this means is that the next president, even as he or she tries to extricate us from Iraq — and prevent the country’s breakup from turning into a regional war — will have to deal with constant sniping from the people who lied us into an unnecessary war, then lost the war they started, but will never, ever, take responsibility for their failures.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Fakery of General Petraeus: What Iraqis Think About the Surge

The Fakery of General Petraeus: What Iraqis Think About the Surge


At first sight the Petraeus report looks as if it is going to be one of those spurious milestones in the war in Iraq, (like the Iraq Study Group’s report last December), heavily publicized at the time, but not affecting the political and military stalemate in the country.

Unfortunately, the propaganda effort by the White House now underway may have a more malign impact than most propaganda exercises. It claims that victory is possible where failure has already occurred. It manipulates figures and facts to produce a picture of Iraq that is not merely distorted but substantively false.

The ‘surge’, the dispatch of 30,000 American reinforcements, was announced by President Bush on January 10 as a bid to regain control of Baghdad and reduce the level of violence. But the achievements are more apparent than real. The Interior Ministry in Baghdad says that 1,011 people died violently in Iraq in August, but an official at the ministry revealed to the US news agency McClatchy that the true figure for the month is 2,890 killed.

The truest indicator of the level of violence in Iraq is the number of people fleeing their homes because they are terrified that they will be murdered. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees the number of refugees has risen from 50,000 to 60,000 a month and none are returning.

Iraqi society is breaking down. It is no longer possible to get medical treatment for many ailments because 75 per cent of doctors, pharmacists have left their jobs in the hospitals, clinics and universities. The majority of these have fled abroad to join the 2.2 million Iraqis outside the country.

The food rationing system on which five million Iraqis rely to stay alive is also breaking down with two million people no longer being fed because food cannot be distributed in dangerous areas. Rice and beans are of poor quality and flour, tea and baby formula are short. Unemployment is 68 per cent of the workforce, so without a state ration and no jobs, more and more Iraqis are living on the edge of starvation.

No wonder then that what Iraqis believe is happening to them and their country is wholly contrary to the myths pumped out by the White House and the Pentagon. The opinion poll commissioned by ABC news, the BBC and Japanese Television NHK and published yesterday shows that 70 per cent of Iraqis say that their security has got worse during the last six months when the US increased the number of its US troops in Baghdad and surrounding provinces. A solid 57 per cent believe that attacks on coalition forces are acceptable. Some 93 per cent of Sunni approve such attacks and 50 per cent of Shia also back them.

Interestingly, 46 per cent of Iraqis believe that full-scale civil war would be less likely if the US withdrew before civil order is restored. Some 35 per cent say it would be more likely to occur.

There are some other telling statistics showing the differences between the Shia and Sunni communities. Some 30 per cent of Shia Arabs say the security situation in their neighborhood has become better in the last six months and 21 per cent say it is getting worse. But more than half the Sunni -- 56 per cent -- say their security is worse and only 7 per cent say it is better. These figures confirm the belief that the Sunni are being pushed out of Baghdad or into small enclaves within the city.

Ever since the summer of 2003 the US has never admitted the political and military consequences of the lack of support for the occupation outside Kurdistan. The latest poll shows that 79 per cent of Sunni and 59 per cent of Shia have no confidence at all in the US and UK forces.

This basic lack of support for the occupation undermines the elaborate tactics which Gen David Petraeus is supposedly carrying out in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. The US and Britain have been training Iraqi forces for four years now without producing Iraqi units willing to fight alongside them. The difficulty is not equipment or training but legitimacy and loyalty.

At the start of yesterday’s Congressional hearings congressmen asked how it was that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was unable to produce a power sharing government. The answer is that he was not elected to do so. He was elected because the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition of Shia parties, won the greatest number of seats in the December, 2005 general election and formed a government in alliance with Kurdish nationalist coalition. Some 54 per cent of Shia Arabs now support the government and 98 per cent of Sunni Arabs disapprove of it.

The Shia know they are 60 per cent of the population and are suspicious that the US is endlessly trying to find ways of robbing them of the power they were denied for centuries under the domination of Sunni Arabs who are only 20 per cent of Iraqis. They are deeply worried that the US is in effect creating a Sunni militia under US control by turning the Anbar Sunni tribes against al Qaida in Iraq.

The Shia leaders also notice that President Bush visited Anbar and not Baghdad earlier this month (though he may also have been seeking to to avoid the mortar bombs which rain down on the Green Zone these days to greet visiting foreign dignitaries).

Essentially there is a political and military stalemate in Iraq which the US ‘surge’ has not changed. The departure of Mr Maliki under pressure from the US would produce no more benefits than the sacking of his predecessor Ibrahim al-Jaafari last year. So-called moderate politicians like Iyad al-Allawi have limited local support though he has been heavily backed by the Sunni Arab states.

All the players in the Iraq tragedy who were present at the beginning of the surge in January are still there. Thanks to the US there are more militias than there used to be. General Petraeus might make a case for saying that the US position in Iraq is not much worse, but it is certainly no better.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of 'The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq', a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006.

America’s self-inflicted war wounds

Column: America’s self-inflicted war wounds

Gideon Rachman

The symbolism of getting General David Petraeus to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the anniversary of 9/11 appealed to the White House. It should not have. It is crass. General Petraeus’s struggle to salvage the Iraq war merely underlines the fact that invading Iraq was a crazy way to respond to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Six years after 9/11, the US needs to re-think. It is now clear that Iraq was the biggest blunder of the Bush years. It is also becoming evident that counter-terrorism should no longer be the centrepiece of American foreign policy. As the official 9/11 commission demonstrated, Saddam Hussein played no role in the terrorist attacks. He also had no nuclear weapons and no significant relationship with al-Qaeda.

But the Iraq invasion was not simply the wrong response to 9/11. It has actually made the terrorism problem worse in five significant ways.

The remainder of this week's column can be read here ( subscribers only). Comments can be made below.

How Bush is trying to save face in Iraq

How Bush is trying to save face in Iraq
The president is now taking credit for turning Sunni tribes against al-Qaida in Iraq. But two years ago he rejected a Sunni offer to negotiate an end to the violence.

By Sidney Blumenthal

Sep. 13, 2007 | Two years ago the Sunni sheiks leading the insurgency in Iraq's Anbar province approached the United States, offering to end the violence in exchange for a timetable establishing that U.S. forces would withdraw from the country, a senior official at the highest level of the British government told me. Without some sort of negotiated deal that the Sunni leaders could brandish, they explained, they would not have the essential political justification for quelling the conflict. The British believed that the Sunni offer was being made in good faith and urged that it be accepted. But according to the senior British source, President Bush rejected it out of hand, still certain that he could achieve a military victory. He saw any agreement with the Sunnis as tantamount to defeat, the British official said. And yet, even as the Sunnis were rebuffed, Bush continued to invest trust in the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government to forge a political conciliation.

Now, Thursday night, in a nationally televised address from the Oval Office, President Bush will announce the withdrawal of 30,000 troops from Iraq by July 2008, leaving the U.S. force at the level it was before the "surge," through the presidential election year. He will claim that he is able to withdraw these troops because of the success of his plan, as proved by the result of the turning of Sunni tribes in Anbar province against al-Qaida in Iraq.

As Gen. David Petraeus did in his congressional testimony, Bush will point to events in Anbar as the key evidence of the surge's triumph. What he will not be discussing is how he discarded the earlier Sunni offer to negotiate and dismissed the advice of the British government as he pursued the chimera of "victory." He will also carefully neglect to observe that the Sunni action against al-Qaida in Iraq began independently before the surge, that it was never foreseen as part of the surge, that the Sunnis politically are more estranged than ever from the Shiite-run government of Nouri al-Maliki, or that the U.S. arming of the Sunnis may be a perverse preparation for the next phase of the Iraqi sectarian civil war in the likely absence of political power sharing. Nor will Bush explain the contradiction between his withdrawal of these 30,000 troops and his doomsday scenarios that withdrawing U.S. forces will presage genocide on the scale of Cambodia.

The appearance of Gen. Petraeus was staged to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Yet the emotional impact of the memorials has been overshadowed by the fresh casualty lists from Iraq. The day before this Sept. 11, two U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne, who had joined five others in writing an Op-Ed article for the New York Times saying that the surge was not working, were killed in action. Yet Bush still sought to wring political gain out of the tragic memories of 9/11 as though his paradise lost -- the national unity after 9/11 -- could be regained.

Artillery barrages of TV commercials seeking to soften public opinion preceded Petraeus' report. A new front group, Freedom's Watch, founded at the instigation of the White House, funded by Bush's political financiers (including prominent members of the Scooter Libby Defense Fund) and directed by Dan Senor (former press secretary for the catastrophic Coalition Provisional Authority), launched a series of ads that were a pastiche of past Republican themes. Children in small-town America were depicted raising a flag, a scene plagiarized from Ronald Reagan's 1984 "Morning Again in America" commercial. Then fragments of Bush's 2004 campaign washed up like messages in bottles. Soldiers who had lost limbs in Iraq segued into pictures of the burning World Trade Center as words appeared on the screen: "They attacked us." A soldier said, "We're winning on the ground in Iraq. It's no time to quit." A bereaved woman whose uncle died as a fireman in the twin towers and whose husband was killed in Iraq spoke as words flashed on the screen: "More attacks." "Surrender is not an option." In another ad, a Marine in a wheelchair said, "To hear Congress talk about surrendering really makes me angry." After these poisons were injected into the atmosphere, Petraeus emerged from behind the curtain as the sober voice of reason.

Seated side by side, Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker presented less a united front than the antipodes of Bush's strategy. Both men were great stone faces, droning and dull, their lack of affect serving as masks for their onerous tasks. Instead of complementing each other, the men's testimonies made plain the surge's strategic incoherence. Deploying the classic euphemisms and misdirections of diplomacy, Crocker demolished, intentionally or not, whatever Petraeus sought to achieve with his dazzling display of dubious statistics. Then, in response to a single pointed question, Petraeus conceded the emptiness of his performance. He aimed friendly fire at himself.

"War is the extension of politics by other means," wrote the great military strategist Karl von Clausewitz. As a military operation the surge was intended to produce political power sharing and reconciliation. But Crocker disclosed that the military had not achieved these ends. Not only are the political benchmarks that the Iraqi government and the Bush administration established unmet, but they may never be realized. Crocker could attach no period of time to these goals. He could only suggest that there should be no benchmarks. "Some of the more promising political developments at the national level," Crocker said, "are neither measured in benchmarks nor visible to those far from Baghdad." In other words, the evidence is anecdotal, scattered and uncertain. Asked when political reconciliation might occur, he replied, "I could not put a timeline on it or a target date ... How long that is going to take and, frankly, even ultimately whether it will succeed, I can't predict." Crocker's version of Bush's policy was "Waiting for Godot."

Petraeus, meanwhile, meticulously unveiled an array of metrics attempting to demonstrate that the surge had succeeded in lowering the level of sectarian violence and civilian casualties. But his effort to gain empirical ground was greeted with widespread skepticism because his statistics were in dispute. The National Intelligence Estimate released on Aug. 23 stated: "The level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high." The Government Accountability Office report of Sept. 4 (PDF) stated that the aim of "reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security" was "not met," and that "there was no clear and reliable evidence that the level of sectarian violence was reduced and that militia control of local security was eliminated." GAO comptroller general David Walker testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree" and that "part of the problem that we had in reaching a conclusion about sectarian violence is there are multiple sources showing different levels of violence with different trends." And the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, chaired by retired Gen. James L. Jones and created by Congress, reported: "The Iraqi Police Service is incapable today of providing security at a level sufficient to protect Iraqi neighborhoods from insurgents and sectarian violence."

Petraeus' presentation relied on the power of PowerPoint, but it was less than overwhelming. He had to plead that his statistics were valid even as he refused to reveal his full methodology. As it was, the strangeness of his categories -- a bullet to the back of the head entitled the victim to be registered as a civilian casualty, but a bullet to the front of the head did not, putting the victim into an insurgent casualty category -- suggested arbitrary classification, political willfulness and subjectivity.

In any case, Crocker's description of the Iraqi political void made Petraeus' claim of progress appear absurd. Petraeus was left dangling, flourishing numbers about tactics unrelated to the strategy. The ambassador consigned the general to a Clausewitzian twilight zone.

The highly credentialed and qualified Petraeus has a doctorate from Princeton and has written a recent report on the history of counterinsurgency. But he has apparently not studied the case of Colin Powell, whose sterling reputation and military expertise were appropriated by Bush for political purposes and who, after his utility was exhausted, was abandoned on the side of the road. The real front line where Petraeus found himself was more political than military.

If the surge has no connection to political goals in Iraq, it still has strategic political goals, just not in Iraq. The surge is the military means to Bush's political ends at home. "So now I'm an October–November man," Bush told his authorized biographer, Robert Draper, in "Dead Certain." "I'm playing for October–November." The rollout of the Petraeus report is the last major political offensive of the Bush administration. Petraeus' reputation is the token for buying precious time for an unpopular president. The Democratic Congress lacks sufficient majorities to alter Bush's policy. Petraeus' show is staged to keep Republicans, on the edge of sheer panic, from defecting en masse. Through Petraeus, Bush is locking in the congressional leaders and the Republican presidential candidates behind his policy. The general has been wound up as a mechanism for Bush's endgame -- perpetuating the president's Iraq policy until the conclusion of his term and assigning responsibility for "victory" or "defeat" to his successor. In his analogizing to the Vietnam War, Bush has begun to lay the basis for a stab-in-the-back, who-lost-Iraq debate, a poisonous legacy.

Sen. John Warner, the Virginia Republican who announced his retirement last week and who has called for disengaging from Iraq, asked Petraeus a simple and obvious question about Bush's policy, one that Bush likes to answer: "Do you feel that that [strategy] is making America safer?" Unexpectedly, Petraeus paused. "I believe this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq," he finally replied, carefully sidestepping a direct response. So Warner repeated his question: "Does the [Iraq war] make America safer?" Again Petraeus paused before answering, "I don't know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted it out in my own mind."

In the end, Petraeus could not convince even himself. Petraeus has lost his battle. Crocker has revealed the strategy as hollow. But the policy goes on.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

McConnell Baselessly Claims New Expansive FISA Law Responsible For Preventing Terror Attack

McConnell Baselessly Claims New Expansive FISA Law Responsible For Preventing Terror Attack

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell yesterday tried to claim that the new expansive FISA law adopted by Congress prior to the August recess was responsible for the foiling of a recent alleged terror attack. The New York Times reports that McConnell tried to tie the capture of three Islamic militants accused of planning bomb attacks in Germany to the FISA bill:

Mr. McConnell made his remarks to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. When asked by the chairman, Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, whether the new law that Congress adopted last month facilitated the German arrests, Mr. McConnell said, “Yes, sir, it did.”

Fox News quickly used the comments to drum up support for the administration’s demand for broad spying authority. “Just last week three Germans allegedly planning attacks against US interests were arrested and it was partly due to a strengthened Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in danger now of being scaled back by Democrats in Congress,” Fox reported.

McConnell’s statements have no basis in reality, but rather, appear to be an effort to build public support for the new FISA law that expires in five months. The Times reported today that a government official said “McConnell might have misspoken.” In fact, the information gathered ahead of the alleged German attacks was done under the prior FISA law — the law that required warrants:

[T]he official, who has been briefed on the eavesdropping laws and the information given to the Germans, said that those intercepts were recovered last year under the old law.

Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) sent a letter to McConnell demanding that he back up his claims. The letter states:

Please state whether a specific decision was made to de-classify the information you provided to the Senate Committee and, if so, when, by whom, under what authority, and what was the specific background and explanation. In addition, please clarify whether the intercepts in question were foreign-to-foreign, as your statement implied, and whether they were in fact obtained under the old FISA law or the new FISA law.

UPDATE: Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House intelligence committee, issued this statement:

“Contrary to DNI McConnell’s remarks before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee yesterday, the so-called ‘Protect America Act’ played no role in uncovering the recent German terrorist plot. Those arrests were made with the assistance of intelligence gathered under U.S. laws in effect earlier this year. The DNI knew that going into the hearing. The questions remain why he asserted otherwise during the hearing, and why he has yet to correct the record.

“The German terror case in question is another example of why I voted against the ‘Protect America Act’ when it came to the House floor in August. Our existing collection activities are working well overall, uncovering potential terrorist plots in Europe and elsewhere. While some technical adjustments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) might be in order, the bill the Congress passed last month went far beyond what was necessary by effectively suspending the Fourth Amendment. I’ll be exploring these issues with DNI McConnell in future oversight hearings.”

Hirsh: Rating Petraeus’s Report to the Hill

Hirsh: Rating Petraeus’s Report to the Hill

Not surprisingly, Petraeus performed smoothly in his testimony to Congress. But an internal Pentagon report is expected to 'differ substantially' from his recommendations on withdrawal from Iraq, NEWSWEEK has learned.
By Michael Hirsh
Updated: 5:00 p.m. CT Sept 10, 2007

Sept. 10, 2007 - Let’s not mince words: David Petraeus may be the only thing standing between George W. Bush and total failure in Iraq. And it’s apparent that most of the Washington power elite—as well as the rest of the country—understands that. All of which helps to explain the extraordinary spectacle on Capitol Hill on Monday, when Gen. Petraeus, the commander of multinational forces in Iraq, delivered a mostly positive report on Bush’s “surge” in Iraq, as anguished antiwar protesters shouted and screamed imprecations from the back of the packed hearing room before being led out by security guards. (Among those arrested: Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq and later became a leading activist against the war.)

But it is not so much Petraeus the general that Bush is depending on right now, it is Petraeus the politician. Most of the media coverage of the 54-year-old four-star officer has focused on his intellectual brilliance (top 5 percent of his class at West Point; Princeton Ph.D., counterinsurgency expert). What Bush needs out of Petraeus now, however, is his lobbying acumen, namely his ability to persuade the Democrat-controlled Congress—in particular, the growing number of Republican war doubters there—to give him the time he says he needs to rescue some measure of stability out of the chaos of Iraq.

Not surprisingly, Petraeus performed smoothly on the political front on Monday. In testimony he insisted was his own frank assessment and not cleared beforehand with the White House (however, it was briefed “up the chain of command,” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told NEWSWEEK), Petraeus delivered an early Christmas present to legislators who are desperate to show their constituents that they are working toward withdrawal. Petraeus said he wants to bring home a U.S. Army combat brigade in December, and that by July 2008 he hoped to remove five more combat brigades and two Marine battalions, reducing the U.S. presence from about 168,000 now to “pre-surge levels” of about 130,000 troops.

But it's questionable whether even the smoothest-talking salesman could appease public opinion—or Petraeus’s Pentagon detractors—at this point. NEWSWEEK has learned that a separate internal report being prepared by a Pentagon working group will “differ substantially” from Petraeus’s recommendations, according to an official who is privy to the ongoing discussions but would speak about them only on condition of anonymity. An early version of the report, which is currently being drafted and is expected to be completed by the beginning of next year, will “recommend a very rapid reduction in American forces: as much as two-thirds of the existing force very quickly, while keeping the remainder there.” The strategy will involve unwinding the still large U.S. presence in big forward operation bases and putting smaller teams in outposts. “There is interest at senior levels [of the Pentagon] in getting alternative views” to Petraeus, the official said. Among others, Centcom commander Admiral William Fallon is known to want to draw down faster than Petraeus.

Petraeus’s draw-down recommendations have outraged critics of the war who accuse him of merely doing Bush's bidding and adjusting his recommendations to the politics of the Hill. (“General Betray Us,” the leftwing group called him in a series of newspaper ads on Monday.) Even some supporters of the surge effort wonder whether Petraeus isn’t thinking as much about selling the war as winning it. “It depends on how this recommendation is framed,” said Dan Senor, a former top official with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq who is now working part-time as an adviser to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. “If it’s framed as a recommendation out of a position of strength, that things are going well and therefore we can afford to reduce our troop levels, that’s fine. If, however, it is interpreted as throwing a bone to Congress, in order to placate Congress at expense of our operational capacity, then that’s not good.”

John Arquilla, an intelligence and counterinsurgency expert at the Naval Postgraduate School, is even harsher in his assessment of Petraeus. “I think Colin Powell used dodgy information to get us into the war, and Petraeus is using dodgy information to keep us there,” he said. “His political talking points are all very clear: the continued references he made to the danger of Al Qaeda in Iraq, for example, even though it represents only somewhere between 2 and 5 percent of the total insurgency. The continued references to Iran, when in fact the Iranians have had a lot to do with stability in the Shiite portion of the country. And it's not at all clear why things are a little better now. Is it because there are more troops, or is it because we're negotiating with the insurgents and have moved to small operating outposts? On any given day we don't have more than 20,000 troops operating. The glacial pace of reductions beggars the imagination.”

So a great deal will depend on Petraeus’s ability to sell his ideas on the Hill during exhaustive testimony this week. (After a six-hour session before a joint session of the House Armed Services Committee and Foreign Relations Committee on Monday, he and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker are scheduled to face the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.) On that score, as much as for his generalship, Bush could not have picked a better man than Petraeus. According to a former senior civilian official in the Coalition Provisional Authority, Petraeus is a “total performer.” This reporter observed Petraeus’s political skills up close while flying with him above the Iraqi city of Mosul in a Blackhawk helicopter in early 2004. Speaking through headphones over the loud whirring of the chopper engines, Petraeus pointed out to then-Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer III how many satellite dishes had popped up on Iraqi homes during the general’s tenure as commander of the 101st Airborne Division. Citing the dishes as a sign of progress, he proposed that Bremer go national with Petraeus’s “Mosul’s most wanted” TV show, launched to get locals to call in with insurgent tips. And Petraeus called in a large press gaggle to observe training exercises at his local Iraqi military training academy. Later, back in Baghdad, Bremer shook his head and laughed indulgently. “He loves headlines,” Bremer said. “But he’s very good.”

Bush hasn’t officially signed off on Petraeus’s recommendations. “You’ll hear from the president by the end of the week,” says the NSC’s Johndroe. But Bush is almost certain to endorse his general’s campaign on the front lines of the Washington debate. Petraeus knows that whatever hopes he still has for “success” in Iraq—a loosely defined term that even White House officials now privately acknowledge might just mean avoiding a bloodbath and the breakup of the country—may now depend on the political will here at home as much as on the battlefield in Iraq.


What Crocker and Petraeus didn't say

What Crocker and Petraeus didn't say
Nancy A. Youssef and Leila Fadel | McClatchy Newspapers

last updated: September 10, 2007 08:59:49 PM

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration's top two officials in Iraq answered questions from Congress for more than six hours on Monday, but their testimony may have been as important for what they didn't say as for what they did.

A chart displayed by Army Gen. David Petraeus that purported to show the decline in sectarian violence in Baghdad between December and August made no effort to show that the ethnic character of many of the neighborhoods had changed in that same period from majority Sunni Muslim or mixed to majority Shiite Muslim.

Neither Petraeus nor U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker talked about the fact that since the troop surge began the pace by which Iraqis were abandoning their homes in search of safety had increased. They didn't mention that 86 percent of Iraqis who've fled their homes said they'd been targeted because of their sect, according to the International Organization for Migration.

While Petraeus stressed that civilian casualties were down over the last five weeks, he drew no connection between that statement and a chart he displayed that showed that the number of attacks rose during at least one of those weeks.

Petraeus also didn't highlight the fact that his charts showed that "ethno-sectarian" deaths in August, down from July, were still higher than in June, and he didn't explain why the greatest drop in such deaths, which peaked in December, occurred between January and February, before the surge began.

And while both officials said that the Iraqi security forces were improving, neither talked about how those forces had been infiltrated by militias, though Petraeus acknowledged that during 2006 some Iraqi security forces had participated in the ethnic violence.

Both officials said they believed that Iraq was on the path to potential success. Petraeus said that "the military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met." Crocker was similarly optimistic: "In my judgment, the cumulative trajectory of political, economic and diplomatic developments in Iraq is upwards, although the slope of that line is not steep."

They both pleaded for more time, even as Petraeus said that the U.S. should begin pulling troops out, with the goal of being back to the pre-surge level of 130,000 troops by next July. Further reductions would be considered next spring, as conditions allow, he said.

Both men celebrated their plan's success in encouraging residents in once-restive Anbar province to work with U.S. troops against al Qaida in Iraq.

Petraeus conceded that that success didn't extend to Ninevah province, where progress "has been much more up and down." But he didn't say that many believe that al Qaida numbers increased there only after the surge began. Ninevah is where some of the largest bombings of the year occurred, including the attack on the Yazidis, which killed more than 300.

He also offered a tepid endorsement of the Iraqi security forces, at times saying that they were increasingly capable of defending Iraq, while conceding that they needed to show more progress.

"Iraqi security forces have also continued to grow and shoulder more of the load, albeit slowly and amid continuing concerns about the sectarian tendencies of some elements in their ranks," Petraeus said. "In general, however, Iraqi elements have been standing and fighting and sustaining tough losses, and they have taken the lead in operations in many areas."

He said 445,000 people were on the security forces' payroll, but didn't discuss that many officials believe that thousands of those don't actually exist, but are phantoms whose salaries actually go into ministry officials' pockets.

Both Iraqis and U.S. officials concede that militias have infiltrated the security forces and that political leaders continue to interfere with their operations to serve their sects' interests.

Petraeus presented a series of maps to show how sectarian violence had dropped in Baghdad from December 2006 to August 2007. But all of the maps showed the same color-coding for Sunni, Shiite and mixed neighborhoods, even though the ethnicity of many neighborhoods have shifted dramatically over the previous year. U.S. military officials say that Baghdad was once 65 percent Sunni and is now 75 percent Shiite.

Questions from the 107 members of Congress who sat in on the hearing rarely produced more detail.

Still, the two men, considered by many to be among the most capable U.S. public servants to have served in Iraq, didn't attempt to hide their reservations. Both said they couldn't guarantee success.

Crocker, a fluent Arabic speaker and a lifelong student of the area, questioned the U.S. criteria for measuring success and said that the Iraqi government might never meet most of the 18 benchmarks laid out by Congress in a May law. Petraeus, who wrote the Army's counterinsurgency manual, acknowledged that violence remained at unacceptable levels.

Independent observers said the numbers that Crocker and Petraeus provided showed the violence has dropped to about where it was in May 2006, a few months after a February 2006 bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in the mostly Sunni city of Samarra, which the military uses to mark the rise in sectarian violence.

"At best, what you've got is the status quo from May or June of 2006," said Kirk Johnson, who served for 13 months as the chief statistician for Crocker and who said he supports the current strategy in Iraq.

Rand Beers, a former White House counterterrorism aide who resigned to protest the invasion of Iraq, noted there was another troop surge, in Baghdad, in summer 2006.

"We've had two surges, and in a way, things are back to the level before the first surge," Beers said in a conference call with reporters.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert Gard said that it was understandable that Petraeus emphasized the positive.

"He's a human being and he's a military human being that wants to accomplish the mission," Gard said.

(Youssef reported from Washington, Fadel, from Baghdad. Warren P. Strobel in Washington contributed.)

McClatchy Newspapers 2007

The Day After: Editorials Not Convinced by Petraeus

The Day After: Editorials Not Convinced by Petraeus

By E&P Staff

Published: September 10, 2007 11:35 PM ET

NEW YORK So what does the press have to say, on the day after the landmark testimony of Gen. David Patraeus (along with Ambassador Ryan Crocker) on Capitol Hill, with another day to come on Tuesday?

We will present the editorial reaction as it comes in, but most of it has been negative.

"For months, President Bush has been promising an honest accounting of the situation in Iraq, a fresh look at the war strategy and a new plan for how to extricate the United States from the death spiral of the Iraqi civil war," The New York Times opened. "The nation got none of that yesterday from the Congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. It got more excuses for delaying serious decisions for many more months, keeping the war going into 2008 and probably well beyond.

"It was just another of the broken promises and false claims of success that we’ve heard from Mr. Bush for years, from shock and awe, to bouquets of roses, to mission accomplished and, most recently, to a major escalation that was supposed to buy Iraqi leaders time to unify their nation. We hope Congress is not fooled by the silver stars, charts and rhetoric of yesterday’s hearing. Even if the so-called surge had created breathing room, Iraq’s sectarian leaders show neither the ability nor the intent to take advantage of it....

"The main success General Petraeus cited was in the previously all-but-lost Anbar Province where local sheiks, having decided that they hate Al Qaeda more than they hate the United States, have joined forces with American troops to combat insurgents. That development — which may be ephemeral — was not a goal of the surge and surprised American officials. To claim it as a success of the troop buildup is, to be generous, disingenuous."

The Washington Post, a longtime war backer, expressed some doubts: "The reports by the general and the ambassador seem to presage a bid by President Bush to pursue the essential strategy of the surge -- pacification of Baghdad and other population centers, combined with efforts to promote national political accord -- in his remaining time in office. Gen. Petraeus alluded to one alternative that could win considerable congressional support -- a shift of mission 'to one that is strictly focused on transition and counterterroris' -- but dismissed it as 'premature.'

"But the commander didn't answer the most important question facing the president. 'The fundamental source of the conflict in Iraq,' he said, 'is competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources.' The surge was intended to give Iraqis the opportunity to resolve that competition peacefully -- and by that measure it has failed. Mr. Crocker suggests that with more time it may yet succeed. Still, the question remains: If the political reconciliation the president expected is not possible in the near future, should the missions of American forces remain unchanged? That's a question that the president must answer."

The Philadelphia Inquirer: "President Bush was a strong and poignant leader in the days just after 9/11. But since then, he has used the attack to pursue objectives that had little or nothing to do with that Tuesday six years ago....

"Six years after 9/11, it is a shame that Bush's misguided invasion of Iraq is upstaging the discussion the nation ought to have and the actions the nation's leaders ought to be taking."

The Orange County (Ca.) Register: "Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect much more, but given the buildup it was a little disappointing. However, it is true that Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker had little to talk about. Perhaps it is to their credit that they did not try to inflate the modest progress they see in Iraq into more than it is....

"More notable were the key questions not answered. Has the ongoing commitment in Iraq helped or hurt the global struggle against jihadist terrorists? How seriously has the U.S. military been degraded? What will be the long-term impact on ready reserves and the National Guard? Could the U.S. respond to an unexpected event elsewhere? Is there a chance the Iraqi government will get it together without a credible threat of U.S. withdrawal? What threat would an Iraq embroiled in civil war present to the United States itself? Is there a definition of success in Iraq that is more than star-spangled rhetoric?

"The recommendation Gen. Petraeus made, that the number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq be reduced back to 130,000 by next summer, would have had to be done whether or note there was evidence of success. We'll see whether these desultory presentations firm up support for staying the course or push some wavering Republicans into the early-withdrawal camp."

Sacramento Bee: "Petraeus and Crocker made it clear they see no need to recalibrate U.S. strategy in Iraq. So the choice remains: continue our current open-ended, ill-defined "stay the course" commitment in Iraq, with troop levels of 130,000 -- or begin a responsible, gradual withdrawal in concert with a serious diplomatic offensive."

Los Angeles Times: "America's 'war on terror,' which enters its sixth year today, now seems destined to redefine our nation for a generation or more to come.

"The war goes on in Afghanistan, which has endured more than 100 suicide bombings this year, including a horrific attack Monday that killed at least 28 people. It goes on and on in Iraq, where Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker recommended to Congress on Monday that U.S. troops should stay, albeit in slightly declining numbers, until that fractious nation stabilizes. And it appears to be expanding to a third front, an undeclared but worsening conflict with Iran....

"No matter how much he insists otherwise, President Bush lacks that fundamental belief in American freedom. As a result, his war has not only subverted U.S. military interests but has undermined the liberties that make this a nation worthy of emulation.That is the tragic and true cost of these past six years."

The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial backing Petraeus, attacked The New York Times: "In an editorial on Sunday, the New York Times, after saying that President Bush 'isn't looking for the truth, only for ways to confound the public,' asserted that 'General Petraeus has his own credibility problems.' We read this as an elision from George Bush, the oft-accused liar on WMD and all the rest, to David Petraeus, also a liar merely for serving in the chain of command.

"With this editorial, the Times establishes that the party line is no longer just 'Bush lied,' but anyone who says anything good about Iraq or our effort there is also lying. As such, the Times enables and ratifies's rhetoric as common usage for Democrats."

Chicago Tribune: "But if some Americans don't like Monday's message, they needn't pillory the messengers. Neither Petraeus nor Crocker has been a White House toady. And neither will have the luxury of abruptly rewriting his comments if the current trajectory of progress in Iraq reverses. For the rest of their careers, Petraeus and Crocker will be judged against the controversial words they speak in Washington this week.

"The week is young; both men will face more hard questions as it proceeds. But on Monday, Americans who want a scheduled drawdown of U.S. troops got part of what they desire. And Americans committed to ending Al Qaeda's deadly sway in Iraq got the sense that David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker will settle for nothing less than that."

Newsday (Melville, N.Y.): "Crocker said the administration's objectives in Iraq - a stable and democratic nation - could still be met. But he largely ignored the abysmal record of the current Iraqi government in meeting almost any of the benchmarks established to measure political progress. So his statement deserves to be examined skeptically, given the past four years of bitter experience. We've been told before that we are near a turning point.

"Petraeus' message was that any withdrawal of troops must be done carefully and slowly, without sacrificing the gains that have been made. That's defensible. But it demands an answer to how long U.S. troops must stay - years or decades? - and what it will cost in lives and money."

The Guardian (London): "It was not Petraeus the professional soldier we were seeing yesterday, but Petraeus the political salesman, and his pitch - give us more time and the plan for regaining stability will work - is no longer credible."