David Petraeus: The Caucasian Colin Powell
My suggested headline this week was "We’ve Seen This Show Before," but the editor went boring on me. (He may have an inexhaustible supply of Larry Craig jokes, but this headline, not so much.) Now that I've thought about it, the real headline should have been above. The newspaper version is here, for the next 2 weeks.
SEPARATING FACT, FICTION IN IRAQ REPORTS
East Valley Tribune, Sep. 9, 2007
This week, Gen. David Petraeus attempts to overcome facts with his resume. He's reporting to Congress after four separate reports, from the Government Accountability Office, the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, the Congressional Research Service, and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, all found little basis for optimism in Iraq.
The GAO found that Iraq completed only three of 18 surge benchmarks; four were partially completed, and 11 weren’t met. The GAO helpfully reminds that these benchmarks were derived from commitments made by the Iraqi government last June, reaffirmed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in September, 2006 and January, 2007, and included in the May, 2007 International Compact for Iraq. The benchmarks themselves are in the "U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007," signed by President George W. Bush himself on May 25.
The Independent Commission (called the Jones Commission, after its chair) found that Iraq’s army is a year to 18 months away from capacity to handle internal security, and that the national police force and Interior Ministry are so sectarian and corrupt that the police should be disbanded and rebuilt from scratch.
The CRS report says the Iraqi government is "in essential collapse" and without "any real prospects for political reconciliation," and the U.S. Embassy says the Iraqi government is unable to rein in corruption in most ministries. Even conservative columnist David Brooks, last Tuesday before new right-wing talking points got distributed, wrote "the surge failed, and it failed in an unexpected way."
But if Petraeus is optimistic about his own accomplishments, well then! None of those other reports could possibly matter.
As we await the Petraeus report, remember that in 2005, as he ended one year in charge of training the Iraqi security forces, Petraeus said that Iraq’s military had made "enormous progress" and was getting closer to taking over from U.S. forces "with each passing week." Now two years later, the Jones Commission finds that "each passing week" means 12 to 18 months from now.
This steady drumbeat to a dramatic presentation resembles the buildup to the February, 2003 U.N. speech by Secretary of State Colin Powell. The Bush administration sent Powell to make its case for the Iraq war, as he was their most popular official. (Powell told aides how Vice President Cheney said before the speech, "You’ve got high poll ratings; you can afford to lose a few points.")
Powell’s speech, which he two years later called "painful" and "a blot" on his record, was rapidly discredited. Within six months, it became clear that the satellite photos, audiotapes, and hidden "classified" documents didn’t prove what Powell said they proved. There were no mobile rocket launchers and biological weapons hidden in palm groves. U-2 overflights and scientist interviews resumed after the speech, before the invasion. No anthrax was located; no trace of biological agents was found on the trucks claimed to be mobile bioweapons labs.
The F-1 Mirage jet shown in a video spraying "simulated anthrax," according to U.N. inspector reports, was destroyed in the 1991 Iran-Iraq war. The four tons of nerve agent VX were produced before 1991; most was destroyed during the 1990's under U.N. supervision, and experts say that VX would have decayed by 2003 anyway, and none was found. Nobody ever found any of the "100 to 500 tons" of "chemical weapons agent," the deployed-and-authorized-for-use chemical weapons in the field never appeared, magnets and aluminum tubes weren’t proof of a non-existent centrifuge program, and nobody has found any hard evidence of a revived nuclear program.
In short, none of it panned out, but Powell did manage to overpower pundit doubts. Even leading Democrats called his speech "irrefutable" (at least until it was completely refuted). So this week, when Gen. Petraeus -- the Caucasian Colin Powell -- gives himself an excellent grade, remember that there’s a considerable difference between being a military hero and giving an accurate report.
I love a man in uniform as much as the next guy, but let’s not again confuse a brilliant career with the facts.