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Iraq: Entering The Drawdown Phase

In his much-anticipated testimony before the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees yesterday, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, called for the withdrawal of 30,000 troops by next summer. That move would return force levels to the "pre-surge" number of 130,000 by mid-July.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Jeremy Richmond
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IRAQ

Entering The Drawdown Phase

In his much-anticipated testimony before the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees yesterday, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, called for the withdrawal of 30,000 troops by next summer. That move would return force levels to the “pre-surge” number of 130,000 by mid-July. Beyond that, Petraeus asked for another six months before determining whether further reductions can be made. The general’s proposal “opened a new phase” in the debate over Bush’s strategy — “from this point on, the argument will no longer be about whether to withdraw U.S. troops but about how many to pull out and how quickly.” Petraeus has repeatedly said he envisions a decade-long presence in Iraq. Thus, his call for a small drawdown can hardly be interpreted as bringing about the safe and orderly redeployment that Americans want and our national security interests demand. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) referred to Petraeus’s call as “a token proposal” and “nothing but a political whisper, unacceptable.” The general attempted to dismiss a more rapid redeployment plan as impracticable. (The Center for American Progress reports a one-year redeployment can be done in conjunction with a Strategic Reset of our presence in the region.) Saleh Adnan, a 34-year old car mechanic in Iraq, said of Petraeus’s report, “I don’t think this will change anything in our country because the Americans will never leave Iraq. For us the main point is when the occupation will end.” Said Adnan: “For me the main report will be the one which announces the American departure.”

SPINNING THE DRAWDOWN: In announcing his drawdown, Petraeus claimed that “we will be able to reduce our forces” because significant “progress” has been made in Iraq. The reality is that the military does not have the troops to sustain these high levels without further weakening the overstretched Army. Given the fact the Army has been clear about not wanting to extend the tours of soldiers any longer than they currently are, Petraeus’s withdrawal is the natural result of the fact the administration has so few options left but to drawdown. Gen. Ray Odierno, a key Petraeus aide, acknowledged as much last month when he said, “We know we’ll have to start to reduce in April of ’08 at the latest.” Army Chief of Staff George Casey added, “If the demands don’t go down over time, it will become increasingly difficult for us to provide the trained and ready forces.” While the media is largely accepting Petraeus’s spin that the drawdown is a sign of “progress,” a New York Times editorial properly notes that Petraeus’s call is “the rough equivalent of dropping an object and taking credit for gravity.”

SPINNING ANBAR: During his testimony yesterday, Petraeus cited the reduced violence in the Anbar province as evidence that President Bush’s “surge” is working. “When I testified in January, for example,” he said, “no one would have dared to forecast that Anbar Province would have been transformed the way it has in the past 6 months.” In fact, Petraeus himself forecasted Anbar’s success during his January confirmation hearing before the Senate. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 23, Petraeus said, “[R]ight now there appears to be a trend in the positive direction where sheikhs are stepping up and they do want to be affiliated with and supported by the U.S. Marines and Army forces who are in Anbar province. That was not the case as little as perhaps six months ago, or certainly before that.” The significance of this contradiction is that Petraeus is attempting to claim success for Bush’s escalation by citing progress that was occurring prior to the surge. Anecdotal evidence suggests that what drove political progress in Anbar was not heavy U.S. military presence, but rather the prospect of U.S. withdrawals.

CROCKER’S REPORT SUGGESTS STRATEGY OF SURGE IS FAILING: When Bush announced the escalation, he claimed the strategy was to reduce violence to “make [political] reconciliation possible.” Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who testified with Petraeus yesterday, “had the task of making a coherent case for extending a substantial American presence” even though the strategy has failed and political advances in Iraq have amounted to little. His conclusions were “measured and far from rosy. He admitted that he was ‘frustrated every day I am in Iraq.'” He also “acknowledged that political reconciliation in the form of legislation in Baghdad is at a standstill,” offering little hope of a near-term resolution. Chairman Lantos assessed, “Prime Minister Maliki has not shown the slightest inclination to move in the direction of compromise. Instead of working to build national institutions — a truly Iraqi army, a competent bureaucracy, a nonsectarian police force — Maliki has moved in the opposite direction.” Crocker refused to sound a critical note about Maliki, telling Fox News’s Brit Hume last night, “I think he is a person of integrity and courage.” “Really?” a shocked Hume responded.

THE VOICES OF IRAQIS: The media circus that enveloped Petraeus’s testimony distracted attention away from another important voice that emerged yesterday — the Iraqi people. A national survey of Iraqi public opinion conducted by ABC News, BBC, and Japanese broadcaster NHK found that 70 percent of Iraqis report Bush’s escalation has “worsened rather than improved security.” Seventy-eight percent say “things are going badly,” a jump of 13 points since the surge began. Almost eighty percent of Iraqis oppose the presence of U.S. forces, affirming the perspective of seven members of the 82nd Airborne who wrote in the New York Times that the military is viewed as “army of occupation” in Iraq. In June, outgoing Joint Chiefs chairman Peter Pace said the fundamental question the United States should use to measure success is whether “Iraqis feel better today than they did yesterday.” The answer to that question is a resounding no.

UNDER THE RADAR

IRAQ — PETRAEUS TESTIMONY IGNORES ETHNIC CLEANSING IN IRAQ: Yesterday, Gen. David Petraeus told Congress that President Bush’s “surge” is working. As evidence, he cited “security gains” and reduced violence in Baghdad. But as McClatchy notes, none of Petraeus’s charts that “purported to show the decline in sectarian violence in Baghdad between December and August made” brought up the fact “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.” A recent Newsweek analysis found that the Bush administration’s escalation has actually “increased the [internally displaced persons] to some extent.” The Iraqi Red Crescent Organization and the United Nations reported last month that the “number of Iraqis fleeing their homes has soared since the American troop increase began in February.” Despite the mass exodus of Iraqis from conflict zones, the Iraqi health ministry reports there still have been more civilian deaths this month than in previous months. The National Intelligence Estimate confirmed that where some “conflict levels have diminished,” it has been due to ethnic cleansing.

AFGHANISTAN — RUMSFELD PROCLAIMS AFGHANISTAN A ‘BIG SUCCESS’:
In an new interview with GQ magazine, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insists that in Afghanistan, “28 million people are free. They have their own president, they have their on parliament. Improved a lot on the streets. … It’s been a big success!” In reality, the country has been abandoned by the United States. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said recently that security there had “definitely deteriorated,” an assessment one former national security official deemed “a very diplomatic understatement.” Yesterday, two suicide bombings killed more than 20 Afghans, representing the rise of terrorist attacks in the country. The Taliban has carried out “103 suicide bombings in Afghanistan in the first eight months of 2007, a 69 percent increase over the same period last year.” The resurgence of Taliban power has also led to record production levels of opium for the second year in a row. Rumsfeld, meanwhile, insists that he continues to receive “hundreds and hundreds” of letters “complimenting” him for his service to the country.

TERRORISM — ON ANNIVERSARY OF 9/11, BIN LADEN STILL AT LARGE, AL QAEDA RESURGENT: Recently, Homeland Security Adviser Frances Townsend called Osama bin Laden “virtually impotent” after he released a tape threatening attacks against the United States. But in a congressional hearing yesterday, intelligence officials said that bin Laden “remained the most dangerous terrorist threat to the United States,” contradicting the White House line. “[W]e are not safe, and nor are we likely to be for a generation or more,” said John Scott Redd, National Counter Terrorism Center Director. In reality, al Qaeda “retains the ability to organize complex, mass-casualty attacks and inspire others.” Bin Laden, who “already has a safe haven in Pakistan” and “may be stronger than ever,” is behind much of this resurgence. He has been “able to fill in the gaps between their megaplots with a rising stream of smaller-scale, homegrown attacks.” Some Bush administration officials recently conceded that they overestimated the damage done to al Qaeda since 2001.

THINK FAST

In New York City, “the firefighters and first responders who helped rescue New Yorkers” — and later recovered the dead — from the World Trade Center, will “read the victims’ names for the first time Tuesday at the sixth anniversary ceremony.” Tributes are also planned in Shanksville, PA, where Flight 93 went down and in Washington, D.C.

Six years after 9/11, just three in 10 Americans “believe that the U.S. and its allies are winning the war on terrorism,” according to a new CNN poll. That number is down from 41 percent “when the same question was asked at the beginning of last year.”

A group of Baghdadis watching the testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker yesterday were “unimpressed.” “I don’t think this will change anything in our country because the Americans will never leave Iraq,” said Saleh Adnan, a car mechanic. “For me, the main report will be the one which announces the American departure.”

Contradicting President Bush’s homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, who recently called Osama bin Laden “virtually impotent,” “U.S. intelligence and law enforcement chiefs and a Cabinet member said Monday that Osama bin Laden remained the most dangerous terrorist threat to the United States six years after the 9-11 attacks.”

A new AP poll finds that the “public sees the Iraq war as a failure and thinks the U.S. troop buildup there has not worked.” By “59 percent to 34 percent, more people said they believe history will judge the Iraq war a complete or partial failure than a success.”

Yesterday while Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker testified to Congress about progress in Iraq, nine U.S. troops in Iraq were killed. Additionally, a “truck bomb killed 10 people and wounded 60 in northern Iraq, police said.”

In an “effort to show that the Justice Department engaged in political prosecutions,” House leaders “are beginning an investigation this week of the prosecution of Don Siegelman, the former Democratic governor of Alabama who was imprisoned in June on federal corruption charges.”

46: Number of senators, including six Republicans, who yesterday called on President Bush “to rescind new administrative restrictions that will make it harder for states to expand their popular State Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

And finally: The “highly anticipated hearing before the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees” yesterday was marked with “outbursts from CODEPINK protesters and snafus with witnesses’ microphones.” “That really pisses me off, Duncan,” said chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO), not realizing his mic was still on. When Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) “leaned in” to talk about the protestors, Skelton could be heard stating, “Those a–holes.”

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GOOD NEWS

“The Senate approved $1 billion Monday to speed repair and replacement of America’s crumbling network of bridges” — a 20 percent increase in federal funding.

STATE WATCH

ILLINOIS: “An Iraqi-American near Chicago is overseeing the finishing of the Pentagon memorial” to 9/11 victims.

UTAH: A newly formed Utah Mine Safety Commission begins to investigate the Crandall Canyon mine tragedy.

CALIFORNIA: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) plans to veto a proposal to overhaul California’s health care system.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Report: Gen. David Petraeus spent at least 17 days in August flacking for President Bush’s escalation.

MATTHEW YGLESIAS: Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon’s tour of the right-wing press shows “that he’s cast himself out of the broad left-of-center community” on Iraq and foreign policy.

THE NEXT HURRAH: White House misses key deadline for report on its “problems with lost email.”

TPM MUCKRAKER: Gen. David Petraeus says he “stands by” his disputed 2004 op-ed on progress in Iraq.

DAILY GRILL

Osama bin Laden “is a man on the run in a cave who is virtually impotent other than his ability to get these messages out.”
— Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend, 9/9/07

VERSUS

“U.S. intelligence and law enforcement chiefs and a Cabinet member said Monday that Osama bin Laden remained the most dangerous terrorist threat to the United States six years after the 9-11 attacks.”
— McClatchy, 9/10/07