Sunday, July 15, 2007

Petraeus the Scapegoat

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There's an interesting piece by Thomas Ricks, who perhaps knows as much about the Iraq War and its politics as anyone in the MSM, in today's WaPo -- and it concerns the use and possible abuse of Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Although Petraeus is Bush's "main man" in Iraq (more than Amb. Ryan Crocker, it seems), and although Bush claims to "trust" Petraeus, it seems that, following Bush's (and the White House's) modus operandi, Petraeus could take the blame, and the fall, if the situation in Iraq doesn't improve:

With opposition to Bush's Iraq strategy escalating on Capitol Hill, the president has sought, at least rhetorically, to transfer some of the burden of an unpopular war to his top general in Baghdad, wielding Petraeus as a shield against a growing number of congressional doubters. In speeches and meetings, the president has implored his critics to wait until September, when Petraeus is scheduled to deliver a much-anticipated assessment of the U.S. mission in Iraq...

Some of Petraeus's military comrades worry that the general is being set up by the Bush administration as a scapegoat if conditions in Iraq fail to improve. "The danger is that Petraeus will now be painted as failing to live up to expectations and become the fall guy for the administration," one retired four-star officer said...

"It seems to me almost an act of desperation, the administration turning to the one most prominent official who cannot act politically and whose credibility is so far unsullied, someone who is or should be purely driven by the facts of the situation," said Richard Kohn, a specialist in U.S. military history at the University of North Carolina. "What it tells me, given the hemorrhaging of support in Congress, is that we're entering some new phase of the end game."

This president and this White House have thus far refused to be held accountable for anything that has gone wrong -- which has been, well, a lot. Iraq has been no exception, nor will this "new phase of the end game" be one. Bush came to Washington in 2000 talking up accountability and responsibility, but his presidency has been quite the opposite. He has wanted to claim to be The Decider, the guy who calls the shots, as if to put down all those nasty rumours that he is nothing but a puppet, but, all along, there have been others calling the shots and, more visibly, others being blamed. No WMD in Iraq? Oh, that was Tenet's fault -- really, the fault of the whole damned intelligence community. The Plame leak? Oh, that was Libby, of course, only Libby, no one else, certainly not Rove or Cheney. And they've all done it: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Gonzales. The culture of scapegoating runs amok with this crew.

And, as Ricks reminds us, other generals have been scapegoated, too: Shinseki, Casey, Pace. Even Petraeus himself once had his serious disagreements with Bremer. Not serious enough to have been scapegoated, perhaps -- but suffice it to say that he "was not always Bush's main man". And he will perhaps be scapegoated even if he finds signs of progress in Iraq -- progress, however defined, but it won't be enough. The war is lost, Bush's war, and someone, anyone, will need to be found to take the blame. As former Pentagon official Lawrence Korb puts it: "This is an administration that wants to blame the generals."

And who is left but Petraeus?

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