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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Petraeus Made EZ

This is being referred to as Petraeus Week by many in Washington, with the General’s testimony (along with that of U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker) to Congress being the long awaited focal point. And in anticipation of this well-previewed event, we’ve seen some predictable lines of attack, with many antiwar Democrats hotly disputing Petraeus’ sunny-side-up assessment of the “surge” and its alleged impact on levels of violence in Iraq, and many conservatives claiming Democrats hate the armed services and don’t care what they have to say about the military situation.
Speaking not as an Iraq specialist, but simply as someone who has observed D versus R national security dynamics for a long time, I’m getting a bit worried that Dems are behaving as though Petraeus’ military assessment is the ball game in determining what happens next in Iraq. If it’s not discredited, some seem to assume, then the case for getting out of Iraq somehow crumbles.
Here’s a pretty simple series of questions that Dems ought to ask in the wake of this testimony: Wasn’t the whole point of the “surge” to make quick progress towards a political settlement in Iraq possible? Doesn’t everyone pretty much admit that no such progress has been made, whether or not the security environment has improved? If that’s right, and it is, then how much does it really matter (other than for humanitarian reasons) whether or not violence has gone marginally up or marginally down, or (as seems likely) has been temporarily shifted from one battleground to others? Indeed, if an “improved” security situation has had no material effect on the sectarian civil war in Iraq (and to address the peculiar talking point we keeping hearing from the Right, turning some Sunni tribes into enemies of Al Qaeda in Iraq has little real impact on the Sunni-Shi’a stalemate), isn’t that actually an argument for the hypothesis that offensive military engagement by the U.S. is no longer defensible?
Maybe I’m missing something, but Petraeus’ military assessment seems pretty irrelevant to me. And making challenges to his credibility as a military leader the be-all and end-all of Iraq War criticism strikes me as a mistake. Perhaps the right response to his testimony would be a shrug rather than a shriek. The war can never be “won,” and will inevitably be “lost” if Iraqis can’t reach a political settlement. They certainly can’t and won’t so long as we are involved in combat operations in their country. And the events of the last six month, whatever else they show, do show that abundantly.

4 comments on “Petraeus Made EZ

  1. Victor Erimita on

    A year ago or less, Democrats were clamoring for “more troops” and said the single biggest mistake in the prosecution of the war was “too few troops.” The moment the so-called surge was announced, the criticism switched to the continued high level of violence and the lack of security. As recently as May the charge was still being made that there was “no progress.”
    Now that there are more troops and clear progress, much less violence and more security in many areas, the charge is that there is insufficient political progress (although there is significant political progress at the local level.)
    It’s as if you were building a house and criticized that the walls weren’t up, and when the walls went up you complained that the roof wasn’t on. When the roof was on you complained about no cable reception. That would not be sensible, constructive criticism. Saying Petreaus’s report is “pretty irrelevant” is like saying the walls are pretty irrelevant because the cable isn’t working. If work had stopped, that would be a valid point, but not if the building is still in progress.

  2. cristym on

    Speaking as a former Democrat, I applaud the civil tone of Ed Kilgore’s post and encourage more of the same from the Democrat community. Disagreement can be exhilarating and clarifying when conducted at reasonable decibel levels, whichever side you’re on.

  3. centrist on

    Mr. Kilgore is dead right, and MoveOn.org made a terrible blunder by paying attention to Gen. Petraeus, and demonizing him makes them look downright irrational. The surge was sold as giving the Iraqis one last chance to put their house in order and they have failed by any objective standard to do so. The story should end here.

  4. PWT on

    It is also important to ask, perhaps not the General and the Ambassador but somebody, “What next?” or “What can be done to move the Iraqi congress closer to achieving its political benchmarks?”. That would place the issue above the politics and would allow each side to present its approach to achieving those goals to the american people.
    I don’t hold my breath, however.


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