Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The “Petraeus report”: my professional take

Note: the following is adapted from my most recent newspaper column, written about Gen. Petraeus’ report on the “surge.”

First, it isn’t a report on conditions in Iraq nearly as much as it is PR flak. Independent studies have shown that violence in Iraq in general is up — well up if you adjust for the summertime slack-off in 120-degree heat.

The Government Accounting Office has said this. But, not just the GAO.
Our own, Bush-sized embassy in Baghdad has said this. So has the Congressional Research Service. And, so has an independent private-world think tank

From the Congressional Research Service study, as reported by the New York Daily News:

“My assessment is that because of the number and breadth of parties boycotting the (Iraqi) cabinet, the Iraqi government is in essential collapse,” said Kenneth Katzman, the author of the report. “That argues against any real prospects for political reconciliation.”

Without that political infrastructure, Katzman said any military progress would be short-lived.

That is, if there actually is any military progress, which Katzman doubts.

“I would even question the military progress,” he said.

Because of the political instability, and the lack of military success, Katzman said he agreed with many senior State Department officials in Iraq that a political solution to the war is now “hopeless.”

And, Stephen Biddle, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of Petraeus’ advisory panel, said (expressing his personal view) that the strategy in Iraq would require the presence of roughly 100,000 American troops for 20 years — and event then would be a “long-shot gamble.”

Twenty years? Talking about Vietnam comparisons, that’s twice as long!

But, President Bush is apparently determined to have a successful report, whether it’s reality-based or PR-based. And Gen. Petraeus, from what I’ve read, has been willing to salute whatever his commander-in-chief ran up the flagpole from the time Petraeus was named ground commander in Iraq.

Especially as Petraeus isn’t even putting anything in writing himself for Congress, we should more accurately call it the Bush report anyway.

And, contrary to a popular straw man, red herring, or whatever, no, the terrorists are not going to follow us home if we leave Iraq. Nor is al-Qaeda going to then topple Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Many people have compared this war to Vietnam. One of the closest comparisons is these two statements closely track the “domino theory” about South Vietnam, how if it fell to the North, Laos, then Cambodia, then Thailand, then all of southeast Asia would go Communist. Eventually, the theory went, we could be fighting them in America, a statement no doubt used to justify CIA domestic spying and a host of other evils.

Well, Vietnam was as much, if not more, a nationalist war than a Communist plot. And, nobody “followed us here.” So, too, is Iraq a nationalist revolt more than a religious one. Plus, given the almost mythical al Qaeda in Iraq accounts for less than 10 percent of violence there — probably less than 5 percent — nobody there is in a position to “follow us here.” Besides, with the degree of factionalism there, that country is likely to enter something like the Thirty Years War when we leave.

So, let’s leave, already. The notion that we can actually change anything — change for the long term, certainly — in Iraq would be laughable if not already tragic. As for the claim the “surge” has rediced Iraqi civilian casualties, the independent studies paint a different story. And, since the Pentagon won’t even declassify how it determines causes of different casualties, its methodology has to be considered suspect because it lacks transparency. (To put it bluntly, from where I sit, the Pentagon is cooking the books, and for political reasons. Does anybody remember the inflated body counts of Vietnam, and for similar reasons?)

Beyond all of the above, there’s too great a danger that too much of the general populace will take the Bush-ghostwritten Petraeus report at face value. That, in turn, could lead to knee-weakening of too many Democratic Members of Congress.

Cross-posted at Socratic Gadfly and Out of Iraq Bloggers Caucus.