Iraq: Preparing for September
Iraq: Preparing for September
With the Iraq supplemental debate behind them, both Democrats and Republicans have begun rallying around a September deadline to reassess President Bush's escalation strategy.
|MAY 31, 2007||by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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Preparing for September
With the Iraq supplemental debate behind them, both Democrats and Republicans have begun rallying around a September deadline to reassess President Bush’s escalation strategy. The make-it or break-it moment will come in the form of a status report by Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq. He “has said that by then he will have a handle on whether the current troop increase is having any impact on political reconciliation between Iraq’s warring factions.” When he appears on Capitol Hill, Petraeus will face lawmakers who are increasingly uniting around the strategic need to begin the redeployment of U.S. troops. “You know what’s going to happen in September? They’ll bring General Petraeus back and he’ll say, ‘Just give me until the end of the year. I think things are turning around.’ And then we’ll be out of session, come back in late January, February, and the fact is a thousand troops will lose their lives in a situation that doesn’t make any sense,” said Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) last week. “By September, when General Petraeus is to make a report, I think most of the people in Congress believe, unless something extraordinary occurs, that we should be on a move to draw those surge numbers down,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) recently. Come September, Petraeus will be at the center of the most contentious political debate in the nation. While Petraeus can and should lay out the facts on the ground as he sees them, as a career military man charged with executing the administration’s strategy, he cannot be expected to give the policy guidance needed to determine whether we continue an open-ended commitment in Iraq or whether we begin extricating ourselves from the middle of a bloody civil war.
‘LAST BEST CHANCE’: In Jan. 2007, as “part of a broad revamping of the military team that will carry out the administration’s new Iraq strategy,” Bush named Petraeus to replace Gen. George W. Casey Jr. as the top American military commander in Iraq. Casey, who had publicly expressed doubt about the wisdom of any short-term increase in troops in Iraq, had his expected departure “moved up several months from the originally anticipated shift in spring or summer,” in order to make way for Petraeus and the “surge.” As soon as Petraeus was named, Bush’s supporters in Congress began touting him as the savior of American strategy in Iraq. “He’s the General Grant of the surge,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) at the time. “He’s our last best chance as a military commander to bring about a change on the ground.” As the Washington Post noted at the time, Petraeus, who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, also became “the last best chance for Bush allies to head off a resolution rejecting the troop increase or at least keep many Republicans from supporting it.” His testimony in September may be the administration’s “last best chance” to head off a long-overdue redeployment of U.S. troops.
POLITICAL PROP: Bush used the confirmation of Petraeus as a cudgel to coerce senators to support his “surge” plan. “The Senate overwhelmingly supported his nomination to be the new general in command of Iraq,” Bush said on Fox News in February. “The fundamental question is: Will they back him up? They voted for him. Will they back him up?” Following Congress’s approval of the troop increase, the administration has continued to rely on Petraeus to support its political aims. In April, while Congress was preparing to vote on its Iraq timeline legislation, the administration brought Petraeus back to the United States for a rare visit, a tactic that was slammed by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) as “purely a political move.” In a speech arguing for his strategy in Iraq in early May, Bush mentioned Petraeus by name no fewer than 12 times, at one point even acknowledging that “the best messenger, by the way, for us is David Petraeus.” Petraeus has allowed himself to be used as a “political prop” to support the White House’s war czar nominee. He has also echoed Bush’s line that al Qaeda, not sectarian civil war, is the greatest threat in Iraq — an assessment that contradicts the intelligence.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST: While Petraeus must present the facts on the ground in Iraq, as the nominal architect of the counterinsurgency strategy, he has a strong personal interest in the success of escalation. As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius observed upon Petraeus’s nomination, “As long as Iraq was ‘Bush’s war,’ it looked like a lost cause. This week, it became in part ‘Petraeus’s war.'” “Asking Petraeus to assess the situation in September might be asking him — if the evidence pointed in that direction — to say that his whole counterinsurgency strategy was wrong,” wrote Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb in a recent op-ed. This would no doubt be a tough task for any proud leader, especially one such as Petraeus, who has been described by a former aide as “the most competitive man on the planet.” In this regard, Petraeus himself, has already begun downplaying expectations for his assessment, telling CNN reporter Jane Arraf, “I don’t think we’ll have anything definitive in September [although] certainly we’ll have some indicators on the political side in Iraq.”
AN INDEPENDENT ASSESSMENT: Though he is the top commander in Iraq and the intellectual architect of much of the counterinsurgency strategy, Petraeus is ultimately implementing the plan of the commander-in-chief, President Bush. “We’re not talking about the Petraeus plan,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), a member of the Armed Services Committee. “We’re talking about the president’s plan.” As an active duty uniformed military officer, Petraeus will not give policy guidance. This is why, as Korb has suggested, “an independent assessment by an outside group, like the Iraq Study Group, but not including members of that group who might also have an ax to grind,” would be an appropriate measure for Congress to take to ensure “that this country will come to grips with the real situation in Iraq.” The Third Way, a strategy center for progressives, has also suggested a similar independent assessment.
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