14 September 2007

Friday PS: "Surge" is not a failure, part two

. . . but the PR surge is a failure.

The visit of David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker to Capitol Hill earlier this week was presented to us taxpayers as a progress report on U.S. involvement in Iraq, a reality check on the so-called "surge" from objective experts. For months, administration officials urged Congress and us to defer our questions until these men reported to us.

They have reported, but over and over again during the testimony, my mind went back to the assertion purportedly made by British intelligence leader Richard Dearlove, of U.S. preparations to invade Iraq, that "...the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." (Source.) I could not shake the impression that these men's true assignment was the same as every other public representative of the Bush administration: to fix the testimony around the policy, to present whatever short-term details it took to deflect genuine accountability for the overall situation we're in. Almost every critical exchange followed one of these patterns:

Q: this benchmark has not been achieved
A1: in a formal sense, no, but informally, it sometimes works
A2: it's a slow process; we think chances are fair that it will work eventually

Q: when can we leave?
A1: we can go back to pre-"surge" levels sooner than we said at first [note that this is like discounting a retail price rather than a crisp indicator of success; how generous was the original margin?]
A2: we can't in good conscience answer that

Q: polls indicate that the Iraqis feel the surge has made things worse
A: I've not seen those polls

Q: what's the rationale for Iraq in a global context?
A: that's beyond my brief

(Excerpts from the House and Senate hearings.)

To be fair, there was an important moment of candor: The witnesses agreed plainly that there was no connection between the 9/11 attacks and the nation of Iraq. Demanding accountability for the connection between the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq would have been, of course, beyond their brief.

Petraeus and Crocker are no doubt conscientious to a fault: they carry a huge burden of administrative stewardship that gives them no incentive to deceive us. It is not their overall strategic vision, as individual public servants, that is in play or in question. For that reason, I don't blame them for trying to limit themselves to testifying, in effect, that a larger occupation force can sometimes make more good things happen than a smaller occupation force, at least while that force is there. It was our president who deliberately set them up to absorb criticism and defend policy at the ground level, where they have some expertise and credibility, while he steadfastly avoids strategic reality: this unsustainable occupation is a moral disaster of global proportions.

And occupation it is. At this week's hearings, there was little pretense that Iraq is a sovereign nation. Every major decision affecting Iraq's future seems to be an American decision; every favorable outcome is presented as depending on either our direct intervention or our forceful advocacy. If there was any mention at the hearings of Iraq's right to terminate the occupation, it didn't come up. When our forces and contractors are not shooting, they're cajoling, improvising, training, untraining, hectoring, intervening, recruiting unsavory allies, subsidizing, and otherwise distorting every dimension of a society they don't understand. Iraqis see it all: Americans who represent the finest values of Yankee generosity and sheer human kindness; and Americans who are playing every crooked angle, earning billions of dollars, losing billions more in unauditable twilight zones, and misplacing many thousands of weapons (even as we accuse the Iranians of smuggling them in--why would they need to?).

Ultimate withdrawal of those occupation forces seems to be dependent upon a shifting set of criteria that cannot be known or committed to in advance, that can at any convenient moment be shown as improving but not quite there, and that can constantly divert our attention from the larger question: What has George Bush done with his stewardship of American resources in the light of global realities and our national values? What has Congress done to oversee or enable him? Those are questions that Crocker and Petraeus were not in a position to address. But all of us who care about our nation's soul are duty bound to keep pressing for answers.

Several members of Congress used their hearing time to denounce moveon.org's full-page "General Betray Us" ad. I don't think an ad that can be seen as a personal attack on a loyal underling is a particularly effective or even ethical advocacy tactic, when the true problem is the supervisor. But I cringed when those normally dignified members of Congress made their insufferably fawning remarks about their witnesses; I was much happier when the questioners asked Petraeus and Crocker about the very incongruities documented by moveon.org as the context for the "despicable" ad.

Thanks for the film suggestions that I've already received in response to yesterday's post. More suggestions are welcome!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was troubled by the moveon.org ad. But on the Sojourners e-list someone sent the link to this story


reporting that Admiral William Fallon despises Petraeus for being "a sychophant." As I read the story I found myself wondering if this dispute between the two officers is what lies behind the "Betrayus" ad.

A disclaimer: I know nothing about IPS News nor the author of the story.