General David Petraeus' Testimony
Bill Long 9/11/07
The Prepared Statement--9/10--and Other Things
Yesterday (Monday) General David Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Force--Iraq, and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, appeared before Ike Skelton's House Armed Services Comittee for a day of testimony on how things were going in Iraq six months after the "surge." You recall that when President Bush implemented the "surge" in February 2007 the hope was that things would succeed by the Summer or early Fall of this year. The upshot of the General's testimony is that things are "generally" succeeding on the security front, but that we should only have a token withdrawal of "surged" forces before next Summer. I hypothesized in an essay yesterday that the coordinated testimony of Crocker and Petraeus can be used by Republicans in the future--to attack Democrats.
While many will examine the specifics of his testimony, I only want to get to the "spirit" of it--in order to assess his general credibility. There is no doubt that General Petraeus is an accomplished person--he speaks well and fluently, he is obviously intelligent and ambitious, he is an accomplished scholar (a Ph. D. in International Relations from Princeton in 1987), and he is probably the most impressive American military person since Gen. Colin Powell (essay here). But I am not necessarily interested in impressiveness here but in his "Reaganesque" tendency to proclaim morning when we really are in the middle of the night. Here is what I mean.
Excerps from Some Petraeus Testimony
Here are some of General Petraeus' words:
"And Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously in the face of an enemy that has shown a willingness to do anything to disrupt the establishment of the new Iraq. In recent months, I have observed thousands of Iraqis in training and then watched as they have conducted numerous operations. Although there have been reverses -- not to mention horrific terrorist attacks -- there has been progress in the effort to enable Iraqis to shoulder more of the load for their own security, something they are keen to do. The future undoubtedly will be full of difficulties, especially in places such as Fallujah. We must expect setbacks and recognize that not every soldier or policeman we help train will be equal to the challenges ahead. Nonetheless, there are reasons for optimism."
How does he try to buttress his enthusiasm? Well, he quotes some statistics--always an effective way in America to make your case. He goes on to say:
"Today approximately 164,000 Iraqi police and soldiers (of which about 100,000 are trained and equipped) and an additional 74,000 facility protection forces are performing a wide variety of security missions. Equipment is being delivered. Training is on track and increasing in capacity. Infrastructure is being repaired. Command and control structures and institutions are being reestablished. Most important, Iraqi security forces are in the fight -- so much so that they are suffering substantial casualties as they take on more and more of the burdens to achieve security in their country."
Wow. Impressive, isn't it? And then he goes on to quote how in the future there will be six more reguar army and six additional intervention Force battalions that will become operational. Nine more regular army battalions will help complete training.
It looks as if things are really are looking "up" in Iraq. The only problem with this? These quotations were from an "Op-Ed" piece which General Petraeus wrote for the Washington Post on September 26, 2004! That is, he had this assessment three years ago. The full text of that piece from the Post is not available free online at the Post's web address, but has been reproduced here. I checked to make sure that the online quotation was "there" in the original Post article.*
[*Updated note from 9/13--On the Sept. 12 News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Gen. Petraeus explained this seeming inconsistency--that things were going relatively well at the end of 2004 but that the Al-Askari mosque bombing in Samarra in Feb. 2006 created a chaos not anticipated in 2004. This may, indeed, be true, but it illustrates another reality of the Iraq world--that one step "forward" can be followed by two steps "backward." Witness today's news (9/13) of the killing in Anbar of a prominent Sheik, Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, who had cooperated with the US against al-Qaida.]
Assessment of 2004 Words
But the point should be clear by now that General Petraeus' assessment in 2004 was simply untrue. Or, to put it slightly differently, the future did not bear out his optimism. How do we know? Well, Ambassador Crocker unwittingly contradicted it in his testimony yesterday when he said that 2006 was a disastrous year in Iraq--which is why we had to have the "surge" in 2007. In other words, Petraeus was proclaiming almost premature victory in 2004, Crocker said that 2006 was disastrous, and now both men are sitting there before Congress in September 2007 saying that there are reasons for hope? Doesn't it seem like we have gone down this road before?
Moving to September 2007
The full text of Gen. Petraeus' comments to the committee yesterday are online (search under "Report to Congress on the Situation in Iraq"). How does it read? Well, it is optimistic David Petraeus once again.
"As a bottom line up front, the military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met. In recent months, in the face of tough enemies and the brutal summer heat of Iraq, Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces have achieved progress in the security arena."
Sound like we have heard this before? Well, he goes on to detail a number of measures of how casualties have gone down and the sectarian violence has been curbed. Credit to him for not trying to argue that national reconciliation has taken place or is on the verge of happening. Even the optimistic General didn't give any encouraging words on that front. Just as we tied purported weapons of mass destruction with the need to invade, so we have tied, in the popular consciousness, the decline in violence with "breathing space" to effect national reconciliation. But that simply may be a dream. We don't really know if the violence is "down" (because of Petraeus' optimism "disease") and, even if it was measurably down, we don't know if it has just gone into hibernation until we proclaim "Surge Success" and then back away or whether violence has been curbed. And, even if the latter is true, we have added (and I think the most conservative Republican would agree) a national trauma in Iraq in the last four years.
Maybe that is the reason that the real "bottom line" in General Petraeus' testimony is that we just need more time. Give us another six months and then we can further assess things. On the one hand more time will almost always help get a clearer vision of things but, on the other, it begins to look perilously close to "give us to the end of the Bush Presidency," when we then can dump this thing in the (probably) Democrats' lap and then we can point at them from the sidelines and say how they have "lost" the war.
As I argued yesterday, this isn't a good time in our history. The war will stick to us and to our children for years to come. Yesterday's (and today's) testimony showed us why.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long