“Sir, I don’t know, actually.”

Listening to and reading about General David Petraeus’ report to Congress this week has been completely depressing.

When asked by Senator John Warner (R.-Va) if his strategy in Iraq was making America safer, Petraeus responded,

"Sir, I don’t know, actually. I’ve not sat down and sorted out in my own mind. What I have focused on and been riveted on is how to accomplish the mission of the Multi-National Force-Iraq."

It’s great that the General is focused on the mission he’s been given, but it’s impossible to believe he hasn’t "sorted out" his own mind on this issue.  Did he not want to express his opinion because it would contradict his testimony?  Or displease his bosses at the Pentagon or the White House?

I guess I have to go along with MSNBC’s Hardball host Chris Matthers who thundered:

"This must be a first, an American field commander who can’t say whether the sacrifices he’s asking of his troops every day and night are worth it to their country."

Now, President Bush claims tirelessly that the war in Iraq is making America safer.  So what information or evidence does he have, above and beyond what his field commander in Iraq is telling us, that makes him so sure?  And could he let the rest of us know too? 

The purpose of the surge was to provide reduced violence and improved security in order to give Iraqi leaders the "breathing space" they needed to tackle the difficult task of political reconciliation.  Let’s accept the General’s assessment — albeit with deep skepticism — that the surge really has produced a measurable drop in violence, at least in some parts of the country.  Now what?  What are the Iraqi leaders doing, and what are we doing to help them?  Maybe this diplomatic activity all takes place behind closed doors, but it sure would be nice to see evidence of a diplomatic "surge" as well.   None was presented to Congress last week.

The drawdown of troops to pre-surge levels by June of next year, held out so tantalizingly by General Petraeus, seems more like an accounting artifact than deliberate military strategy.  By June of next year many of the troops deployed during the surge will have served their full 15 month tour of duty and will be due for well-deserved rotation home to the US.  The US Army cannot, apparently, sustain the current level of deployment much beyond that time.  So, in effect, the surge will simply expire regardless of the situation on the ground.  

I do admire General Petraeus. I think he’s a capable and honorable leader who’s been handed an extremely difficult mission.  But like Colin Powell before him, he has been used by the Bush Administration; shoved, perhaps willingly, into the spotlight as an "independent" spokesperson with more credibility than the President himself, and required to peddle dubious claims and failed strategies.  

Used and sullied. 

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