The White House's Verbal Report

On Iraq, we're always told that better times are right around the corner. We'd be greeted as liberators, we need to De-Baathify, we killed Uday and Qusay Hussein, we had elections, we found Saddam, we had second elections, we put Saddam on trial, we had third elections, Sadr lynched Saddam, we had a government of national unity, we killed Zarqawi, we had "Operation Forward Together" and "Operation Together Forward" (the first two Baghdad Security Plans), and of course, the "Last Throes" of the dying insurgency. If only we'd spend another six months, 500 American lives, 100 billion dollars, and clap a little harder, we're assured of "victory."

Last year we were told to wait for the "elder statesmen" of Washington to save us from the catastrophe of Iraq with their Iraq Study Group Report. "Just wait until the Baker Report," we were told, and we did, funding the troops the whole way. When the day came their recommendations of draw-downs and negotiations with Syria and Iran were rejected by President Bush, who decided on his own "New Way Forward" - the precise opposite of the recommendation - an escalation.

Currently, we sit in waiting for Gen. Petraeus' report to be delivered September 11th, 2007. An auspicious date, I know. We have been repeatedly enjoined to heed his "independent, ground-truth report" before we make decisions about how to change our strategy because he has so much credibility. He was confirmed unanimously, after all.

Now that Magical September has arrived, we find the following:
  • The Petraeus Report isn't Gen. Petraeus' report. It is being written by the White House. Gen. Petraeus human vocal cords just provide a nicer voice-synthesizer than a robot automaton.
  • The White House Report isn't a written report. It's a verbal presentation. That way there wont be any nasty details to examine, only Gen. Petraeus' credibility.
Cynical? Sure, but that's par for the course. What's worse is what Gen. Petraeus himself has been involved in - cooking the books on the so-called "success of the surge:"
  • First, the Department of Defense doesn't like the way the Government Accounting Office, my favorite non-partisan truth-teller, is calculating statistics on the violence, since they show the surge isn't working. The GAO's methodology is public, whereas the DoD's is classified.
  • Pollack and O'Hanlon, liberals academics and fierce critics of the war (who somehow manage to still support every one of Bush's decisions on Iraq, from the start to the Surge), find that the surge is working! Violence is down! Their assessment is based on 8 days in country, meeting only people the DoD provided, and citing classified statistics. My man, Glenn Greenwald, absolutely eviscerates their arguments.
  • The New York Times reports, based on classified statistics, that violence is down! Unfortunately, a week earlier they reported numbers from the Iraqi Interior Ministry showing that violence is up!
  • The Washington Post reports that, according to Petraeus, if you get shot in the front of the head, you're a victim of normal crime. Only those shot in the back of the head are victims of sectarian violence.
  • (ibid) We aren't counting violence involving our new allies, the Sunni Tribes of Anbar (93% of who think attacks on Americans are justified)
  • (ibid) We aren't counting intra-sect violence. If the Badr Brigades and the Mahdi Army have a huge battle, that doesn't count since they're both Shiite.
  • (ibid) We aren't counting the results of car bombs, since those are presumptively the work of Al Qaeda. After all, only Al Qaeda knows how to pack explosives into a car instead of under a road.
  • Finally, we don't seem to be taking the predictable seasonal rhythms of violence into account. Of course violence is a lower in August than it is in March! It's 120 degrees in the shade out there! This happens every year.
  • The Washington Post lets us know that Admiral Fallon, Centcom Commander, thinks the surge isn't working either.
General Petraeus has treated the American people as a target to be engaged in support of the mission, waging a psy-ops campaign against opinion-makers. By deceptively redefining violence, they follow the same media strategy they did with Operation Forward Together II. If your goal is simply to stay in Iraq, then lying to the American people is just about the only way to succeed.

And did you notice how all the anecdotal evidence being cited as proof the surge is working is based on classified information? Can there be any doubt that if the facts actually supported the conclusion, that we would be shown the proof? That we would know the methodology and see the raw numbers?

And please, please remember Bush's promises about the Surge, made when he announced the escalation.
When President Bush announced in January what the White House called a “New Way Forward” in Iraq, he said that Iraqi and American troops would improve security while the Iraqi government improved services. Responsibility for security in most of Iraq would be turned over to Iraqi security forces by November.

With better security would come the breathing room needed for political reconciliation, Bush said.
None of those things have happened. And yet, here we are, with the entire Republican Party asserting that the "Surge is Working."

The question, of course, is not whether we are seeing minor gains in the areas we occupy. I have always firmly believed that this war is within our ability to win - just put more troops in the country. Half a million should do it. The drop in the bucket we've provided with the measly 25,000 troop escalation may have no hope of changing the strategic dynamic of the war, but even a drop of water seems large to the ant it lands on. In neighborhoods we focus, on, therefore, we should see some improvement in security. This has never been at question, since no one thinks the astoundingly effective American military is incompetent.

The question is whether continuing this war is worth the cost. Since we will never institute a draft, and no other countries will sail to our rescue, is it worth continuing? Answering that question requires some idea of the cost in the future, so I'll refer you to Stephen Biddle, a member of the panel advising General Petraeus:
Biddle also said (again, expressing his personal view) that the strategy in Iraq would require the presence of roughly 100,000 American troops for 20 years — and that, even so, it would be a "long-shot gamble."
There is our choice. 20 years of continued cost, after which it is still a long-shot, or withdrawal. Is it in America's interest to continue? I can think of one reason it might be...

Update: (via Kos and Atrios) Where will Petraeus go after his testimony? Straight to Fox News for a one hour interview.

Also, the good general has made this statement:
The top American commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, has recommended that decisions on the contentious issue of reducing the main body of the American troops in Iraq be put off for six months, American officials said Sunday.
It's always six months more.

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