With US General David Petraeus's eagerly anticipated
final report on Iraq due on Sep. 15, supporters of the troop surge are busily
trying to set the stage for the report that they believe will refute their opponents.
The media blitz in Washington is unfolding under the backdrop of dwindling
domestic and international support for the ongoing US presence in Iraq.
In a worldwide poll released Friday and conducted by the BBC World Service,
GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), 67 percent
of international respondents and 61 percent of US citizens think the US should
withdraw within a year.
Progress in the troop surge has been slow and Petraeus's July interim report
found mixed results, with only six of 18 congressional benchmarks for success
in Iraq being met.
On Thursday, the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
which has generally supported the George W. Bush administration's decisions
in Iraq put on a marathon three-and-a-half hour series of panel discussions
to promote AEI resident scholar Frederick Kagan's new report, "No Middle
Way: The Challenge of Exit Strategies From Iraq."
Kagan challenges another recent report by the Center for a New American Security,
which proposes a phased withdrawal from Iraq and a shift from the current US
role of performing security operations to an advisory and support role for the
Iraqi police and military.
."..(The CNAS) report, like most middle-way strategies, mistakes the conditions
that would make such a transition successful: when basic security has been established.
Instead, it suggests than an immediate transition to an advisory role driven
by hopes for bipartisanship in Washington but irrespective of the security situation
in Iraq would allow the United States to withdraw most of its combat forces
without compromising its interests," writes Kagan. "That conclusion
The "No Middle Way" kickoff included surge-heavyweights such as Senator
Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, the Brookings Institution's Michael
O'Hanlon, retired US Army General Jack Keane and AEI's Danielle Pletka and
Gary J. Schmitt.
"Middle Way" proponents, however, did get their say with James N.
Miller, the co-author of the CNAS report, titled "Phased Transition: A
Responsible Way Forward and Out of Iraq," defending his report in one of
the two panel discussions.
The lead-up to the Petraeus report which, the LA Times reported,
"would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials
throughout the government" has fanned the flames of debate over
whether the surge is actually having its desired effect.
All the speakers at the AEI event, minus Miller, painted a positive image of
post-surge Iraq, citing drops in sectarian violence and the impossibility of
starting an immediate phased withdrawal based on timelines instead of improvements
on the ground, both political and security related, which, they claim, would
only lead to a failure in Iraq.
Meanwhile, public support for the US military presence in Iraq is continuously
dwindling. Proponents of the surge point to statistics showing decreases in
sectarian bloodshed, but serious questions have been raised about the validity
of this data.
Petraeus, in his upcoming report, is expected to cite a 75 percent decrease
in sectarian attacks and a 17 percent decline in civilian casualties from December
2006 to August 2007.
However, an Associated Press report last week said that 1,809 civilian deaths
occurred in August, making it the highest monthly casualty count this year,
with 27,564 civilians killed since the AP began its data collection in April
Furthermore, a General Accounting Office (GAO) report criticized at
the "No Middle Way" event found that the "average number
of daily attacks against civilians have remained unchanged from February to
Kagan, Keen and O'Hanlon discount such dire statistics as not being representative
of the Iraq they have witnessed during week-long tours of the country.
Graham summed up the situation as either continuing with the surge and emerging
victorious, or choosing a middle ground and facing certain defeat.
"My last visit convinced me more than anything else that the biggest benefit
from the surge is to take the men and women on the frontlines and change their
attitudes about their mission," said Graham. "They've gone from riding
around waiting to be shot to feel like they're kicking their ass. God bless,"
The LA Times suggested on Aug. 25 that morale might not be "sky
high" or "through the roof," as Graham claimed in his remarks Thursday.
"The latest in a series of mental health surveys of troops in Iraq, released
in May, says 45 percent of the 1,320 soldiers interviewed ranked morale in their
unit as low or very low. Seven percent ranked it high or very high," said
the LA Times.
(Inter Press Service)