Petraeus Made EZ
This is being referred to as Petraeus Week by many in Washington, with the General's testimony (along with that of U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker) to Congress being the long awaited focal point. And in anticipation of this well-previewed event, we've seen some predictable lines of attack, with many antiwar Democrats hotly disputing Petraeus' sunny-side-up assessment of the "surge" and its alleged impact on levels of violence in Iraq, and many conservatives claiming Democrats hate the armed services and don't care what they have to say about the military situation.
Speaking not as an Iraq specialist, but simply as someone who has observed D versus R national security dynamics for a long time, I'm getting a bit worried that Dems are behaving as though Petraeus' military assessment is the ball game in determining what happens next in Iraq. If it's not discredited, some seem to assume, then the case for getting out of Iraq somehow crumbles.
Here's a pretty simple series of questions that Dems ought to ask in the wake of this testimony: Wasn't the whole point of the "surge" to make quick progress towards a political settlement in Iraq possible? Doesn't everyone pretty much admit that no such progress has been made, whether or not the security environment has improved? If that's right, and it is, then how much does it really matter (other than for humanitarian reasons) whether or not violence has gone marginally up or marginally down, or (as seems likely) has been temporarily shifted from one battleground to others? Indeed, if an "improved" security situation has had no material effect on the sectarian civil war in Iraq (and to address the peculiar talking point we keeping hearing from the Right, turning some Sunni tribes into enemies of Al Qaeda in Iraq has little real impact on the Sunni-Shi'a stalemate), isn't that actually an argument for the hypothesis that offensive military engagement by the U.S. is no longer defensible?
Maybe I'm missing something, but Petraeus' military assessment seems pretty irrelevant to me. And making challenges to his credibility as a military leader the be-all and end-all of Iraq War criticism strikes me as a mistake. Perhaps the right response to his testimony would be a shrug rather than a shriek. The war can never be "won," and will inevitably be "lost" if Iraqis can't reach a political settlement. They certainly can't and won't so long as we are involved in combat operations in their country. And the events of the last six month, whatever else they show, do show that abundantly.