Monday, June 18, 2007

Surge sinks into the quagmire

By Libby Spencer

When Bush thumbed his nose at the Baker Commission, the military brass and the American people in January and ordered the so-called surge, I distinctly remember him and his hand-picked patsy, Gen. Petraeus assured us they only needed six months to demonstrate it could work. When it turned out they couldn't muster a surge of troops and instead had to send in a trickle down force, that timetable morphed into nine months. September became the magic month when all would be well on the way to the long elusive victory.

Well, here we are three months short of what many of the few remaining occupation supporters embraced as the drop dead date and already the White House is moving the goal posts. Petraeus now tells us "[c]onditions in Iraq will not improve sufficiently by September to justify a drawdown of U.S. military forces."

Asserting steady, albeit slow, military and political progress, Petraeus said that the "many, many challenges" would not be resolved "in a year or even two years." Similar counterinsurgency operations, he said, citing Britain's experience in Northern Ireland, "have gone at least nine or 10 years." He said he and Crocker would make "some recommendations on the way ahead" to Congress, and that it was realistic to assume "some form of long-term security arrangement" with Iraq.

That's a pretty far cry from what we heard in January when Petraeus was being hailed as the last best chance to rescue the occupation. We were told he could do it because he literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency tactics and Petraeus himself held out the carrot of a six month deadline in his Senate testimony to sell the surge.

GEN. PETRAEUS: Sir, under the current plan, as I understand it, the final brigade would be operational in Iraq at the end of May. Giving them time to get established, to understand the situation on the ground -- other forces will have already certainly been moving into their areas of operation -- I would think that we would have indicators at the least during the late summer of the ability to clear and hold and then build in the Baghdad area and to secure that population.

By February we were deluged with crowing from the surge supporters about the early signs of success. But in March, Petraeus was already hinting that one Friedman wouldn't be enough and warned that a military solution was not possible, but still he was only talking about a few more months.

Now he's suggesting a military occupation of ten years while the White House is floating a 50 year Korea model. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but that sounds sort of like a military solution to a political problem to me and a timetable that curiously coincides with the anticipated time limits on the oil contracts that Bush is pushing Maliki to deliver.

I think it's pretty clear the White House knew all this going into the surge -- it was certainly clear to me -- and it seems my initial assessment that Petraeus accepted this loser of an assignment to advance his own career wasn't so far out of line. In fact, I've been noticing this odd phenonmenon lately. Whenever I hear a talking head say his name, my subconscious hears it as General Betrayus. I fear for all his assurances that he wouldn't allow politics to dictate his tactics, that is going to be the case.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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