Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tomorrow's Iraq News (and Views) Today!

I may be writing about tomorrow's Iraq news (and views) today (which was my suggested headline, but the editor went more prosaic), but it's been the kind of week so that you're only getting Sunday's column on Tuesday. The CNN/Gallup poll is pretty illuminating, though.

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 19 2007

Here are my fearless predictions for September. First, the much-anticipated September report from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker is going to say that we've made progress in certain ways in certain places in Iraq, and that we need more patience in case there's a chance, no matter how slim and no matter how long it may take, that we could salvage something in Iraq.

Second, everyone will find something in the report that supports their pre-existing views. It will repeat the reception of the Baker-Hamilton commission report, where people who supported the war, and those who didn't, both found plenty of evidence for their previous positions, just as both slavery supporters and opponents each could quote extensively from the Bible.

After all, the report, despite all the admiration of these two fine and incredibly talented government employees, will be a Bush administration report, as requested by Congress. Petraeus and Crocker are Bush appointees. They may have gotten Senate confirmation, and supporters may vouch for their nearly mystical competence and insight, but they're still political appointees. (The Tribune agrees; recall the July 17 editorial, "There's no such thing as non-political appointments.")

We'll get the Iraq version of the Secretary of the Army telling us that things are going just fine in our military hospitals. In the absence of any independent reporting, the secretary did think things were just fine at Walter Reed, until the Washington Post reported otherwise.

Petraeus and Crocker are Bush appointees. If they don't support Bush administration policy, why would they be in the Bush administration? No matter how incompetent the president, he or she deserves to have political appointees who believe in what they're doing. (If only Michael Brown had believed that FEMA had a job, maybe Bush's popularity might be, oh, in the upper-30's.)

Just as all reality TV shows seem to copy each other shamelessly, the process around Petraeus-Crocker will repeat what happened with Baker-Hamilton. First, and most importantly, it won't change anything. Bush is still president, he wants to keep fighting in Iraq, and there aren't enough war opponents in Congress to override his veto. Without two-thirds of Congress opposing the war, nobody will cut off funding for troops while they're deployed.

Second, we'll have another spasm of "anti-politics," like the paeans to bipartisanship that greeted Baker-Hamilton. We Americans love democracy as a concept, but we hate politics. We want, in theory, that the people -- the great, indifferent American people -- elect their leaders and determine the course of our nation generally, but when it comes to specific issues, Wise Men prefer that we do as Wise Men say.

Is it such a surprise that on issues where we are sharply divided, that our arguments are sharp and divisive? How are we supposed to hash out difficult issues, like Iraq or immigration, if we don't argue, strenuously?

Petraeus-Crocker will talk about progress and not pulling the plug prematurely, but it also will note that the Army can't sustain surge troop levels more than a few more months, so we'll have to reduce and redeploy troops anyway. Petraeus-Crocker also will note that the point of the exercise, to create circumstances allowing political reconciliation in Iraq, hasn't happened (and that developments politically aren't moving in the right direction). Petraeus-Crocker won't necessarily note that some of the recent progress -- in converting Sunni insurgents in Anbar province to help fight al-Qaida in Mesopotamia -- actually may be undermining national political reconciliation by giving local Sunnis resources, and arms, independent of the central government.

On Iraq, we're divided now, we'll be divided in September, and a report by two Bush administration appointees won't change that. In fact, I can give you the numbers, based on a CNN poll conducted earlier this month: 53 percent suspect the report will try to make things sound better than they actually are, 43 percent said they will trust the report.

Not only can I predict what Petraeus and Crocker will say, I already know what people will think about it: What they already think about it.

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