In its must-read editorial today, "Hiding Behind the General," the New York Times lays out the case for caution on the eve of General Petraeus's testimony on Iraq. It notes, as many have mentioned, that six weeks before the 2004 election, General Petraeus penned an op-ed in which he "rhapsodized about 'tangible progress' and how the Iraqi forces were 'developing steadily,' an assessment that may have swayed some voters but has long since proved to be untrue." It also emphasizes that tomorrow's testimony should be viewed in light of the many reports from independent agencies and organizations which paint an accurate and dire picture for the future of American involvement in Iraq.
The editorial also brings up a chilling comparison:
Mr. Bush, deeply unpopular with the American people, is counting on the general to restore credibility to his discredited Iraq policy. He frequently refers to the escalation of American forces last January as General Petraeus’s strategy — as if it were not his own creation. The situation echoes the way Mr. Bush made Colin Powell — another military man with an overly honed sense of a soldier’s duty — play frontman at the United Nations in 2003 to make the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Bush cannot once again subcontract his responsibility. This is his war.
As Congress prepares to hear the testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, it must remember that we are dealing with more than mere echoes of 2003 here. It has become clear that the President's strategy for staying in Iraq is a replica of his strategy for getting in there in the first place. The Downing Street Memo confirmed what we knew about the selling of the Iraq war to the American public: "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." Key facts were suppressed or twisted or omitted, while speculation and unreliable data was weaved into the administration's pre-war narrative of doom and disaster.
Here we are again, with another military man and another key presentation which will directly affect Congressional action on Iraq. And here we again, with the facts being fixed around the policy once more.
The PR blitz, complete with a "surprise" visit by the President to Iraq, has succeeded in planting the myth of "progress" in the media and the minds of politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Violence is down, the administration says. If you don't count the catastrophic car bombings, or if you classify the violence based on how the bullet pierced a victim's head (back of the head, sectarian & counted, front of the head it's criminal and disregarded).
And the administration is again performing its dance of distraction. Anbar province is relatively peaceful, we are told (nevermind the tragic reason why violence has ebbed in that region). But don't focus on the fact that this summer, in all its surge glory, is the bloodiest summer for American troops since the war began (and certainly, don't look at Baghdad). Violence is down eight of the last 11 weeks, General Petraeus boasted in a letter to troops this week. Just don't focus on how every month, casualties this year are higher than the year before.
Once again, the administration is selling its war. Not to the American people this time--the tragedy and futility of it all have caused the American people to turn against this war long ago. This time around, the hard sell is aimed at Congress, at those who have the power to end this war and start bringing the troops home.
But at tomorrow's testimony, there will be no little vials of anthrax to hold up meant to foreshadow a greater threat, no graphics of mobile labs aimed at generating fear and spurring a nation into pre-emptive action. This time around, snippets of "progress" will be held up as unattainable promises of a future trend. Anecdotes of "success" will be aimed at feeding into a desire to take the path of least resistance on the most critical issue of our time and fostering inaction on the part of our Congress.
Against the backdrop of the inevitable, Congress must remember that the President's desire to stay in Iraq is jut a fervent and just as insatiable as was his desire to invade that county in the first place. And every fact and reality again twisted to fit that policy.
Apparently, that policy is to have this nation suspended forever in a tragic Friedman of time, moving neither forward nor backward but rather standing irrationally still and sinking slowly into the quicksands of a failed foreign policy. It is at that place where this nation begins to lose track of time and numbers and caskets, until all that remains is a never-ending, all-consuming state of war necessary to sustain this unitary executive.
Like every aspect of the White House's PR campaign, tomorrow's testimony is aimed at keeping Congress just that still, at quieting murmurs of Republican dissent and at binding restless hands with patriotic pleas for patience. The facts, like then, are being cherry-picked and weaved into a tapestry of distortion, and even those seemingly cloaked with independence are not necessarily exempted from its reach.
The question remains whether Congress will wake up to the con this time around. Will it exhibit the type of critical investigation and independent analysis it should have exhibited before it voted to authorize this misbegotten hell of a war?
The situation has come full circle. Congress should not make the same disastrous mistake again, because mealy-mouthed apologies and tardy confessions of error will not be enough to absolve this Congress of its own responsibility in continuing what is unquestionably the largest foreign policy disaster of our time.