September approaches, and with it the supposed
watershed in the Iraq war that Gen. David Petraeus' report to Congress will
represent. In reality, the report will make little difference in what the Democratically
controlled Congress does, because it has already decided what it will do, namely
pretend to try to end the war while actually ensuring its continuation through
the 2008 elections. That strategy seems to offer the best promise of electing
Nonetheless, much of the country eagerly wants to hear what Gen. Petraeus has
to say. What he says about the progress of the war in Iraq, however, is a secondary
question. The primary question is, how credible is his report? Will it be a
real military analysis, honest and forthright, or will it just be more kabuki,
political "spin" dictated by the Bush White House? If it is the latter, then
its content is immaterial, because it is not credible.
I do not know Gen. Petraeus, and I therefore cannot judge his character. What
I have seen of his work is certainly better than that of his predecessors. His
attempt to move our forces in Iraq out of their bases and into the neighborhoods
where counter-insurgency must be fought is laudable, if hopelessly too late.
A story in the Aug. 16 Cleveland Plain Dealer by the AP's Steven Hurst
unfortunately brings Gen. Petraeus' credibility into some question. Hurst wrote:
"One of the most significant shifts for U.S. forces recently has been
recruiting allies among former Sunni insurgent areas such as the western Anbar
province. 'A pretty big deal,' said Petraeus.
"'You have to pinch yourself a little to make sure that is real because
that is a very significant development in this kind of operation in counterinsurgency,'
"'It's all about the local people. When all the sudden the local people
are on the side of the new Iraq instead of on the side of the insurgents or
even al-Qaeda, that's a very significant change.'"
The willingness of some Sunni tribes and insurgent groups to work with U.S.
forces in al-Anbar against al-Qaeda is significant locally, However, all my
sources state emphatically that the Sunnis who are now willing to work with
us do not accept "the new Iraq," which is Newspeak for the Maliki government
in Baghdad and Iraq's future status as an American satellite with large U.S.
forces permanently based on its soil. As is usually the case in Fourth Generation
war, the U.S.-Sunni local alliances are temporary tactical expedients, nothing
more. The Sunnis we are working with make quite clear their continuing rejection
of Maliki, Baghdad, and the "New Iraq" at the same time that they also reject
al-Qaeda's terror tactics (including against Sunnis) and its goal of a puritanical
This is just one slip on Gen. Petraeus' part, and given the way the U.S. military
invents good news to pass up the chain, it may reflect what he is being told.
At the same time, the term "New Iraq" is a Bushism. So does its use reflect
what is corning up the chain or what is coming down?
It is the latter possibility that is troubling, because it is the norm, not
the exception. As American military officers gain rank, they soon learn that
the absolute worst political sin is "committing truth." Any time they say something
that contradicts what is coming out of the White House or the office of the
secretary of defense, they find themselves in very hot water. If they persist
in the annoying practice, they discover they do not quality for senior commands.
If Gen. Petraeus is to present a genuine military report in September and not
a "cooked" political document, he will have to buck the system. It should be
fairly easy to judge whether he has done that or not, because if he has, the
White House will howl. The gap between the reality in Iraq and the administration's
rhetoric is so wide that it should show dramatically in any genuine military
analysis. If it does not, and if the White House regards his report complacently,
with just a few quibbles as part of the kabuki, then it amounts to nothing more
than one of Napoleon's bulletins – from which we got the phrase, "to lie like
Come September, we will find out what Gen. Petraeus is made of. Depending on
that, we may also find out something about the war in Iraq.