A General Dissembles

A General Dissembles

Of course, Gen. David Petraeus sees tangible progress and predicts success in the Iraq war. What wonders couldn’t generals achieve with more troops and more time?


Of course, Gen. David Petraeus predicts success in the Iraq War. What wonders couldn’t generals achieve with more troops and more time? The battle is always going well until it is lost, and then they blame defeat on the politicians and the public.

There’s no shortage of retired generals who will tell you we could have won in Vietnam, if only we had sent more troops, or bombed the dikes in the North, or been willing to kill more than the 3.4 million Vietnamese who died along with 59,000 American soldiers. Instead, the politicians and public, led by that bleeding heart President Richard Nixon, lost the will to win. Thus, the dominos fell to communism, and Red China and Red Vietnam now rule the world by dint of military force. Have you been to Wal-Mart lately? The triumph of communism is total.

Once again, we have a general repeatedly promising to save western civilization by turning the corner in yet another intractable and unnecessary foreign war. Back on Sept. 26, 2004, in the weeks before the midterm congressional elections, Petraeus took to the op-ed page of the Washington Post to make sure the voters didn’t vote wrong. Despite appearances, he claimed the war in Iraq was going very well: “I see tangible progress. Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt from the ground up,” Petraeus wrote. “The institutions that oversee them are being re-established from the top down. And Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously … there has been progress in the effort to enable Iraqis to shoulder more of the load for their own security, something they are keen to do.”

So keen, it makes one’s heart swell. So keen that three years later, after the expenditure of $450 billion more in taxpayer funds, and more US troops in proportion to the Iraqi population than, at the height of the Vietnam War, we had in Vietnam, the good general now insists it would be disastrous to even think about bringing any American troops home before next summer.

That’s at least another $150 billion and many more Iraqi and US lives wasted. But wait–Ryan C. Crocker, the US ambassador to Iraq, also testified before Congress this week with Petraeus, and he has more good news about what he still celebrates as the “liberation of Iraq.” Remember that Bush Administration promise that the oil-rich Iraqis would pick up the check for the cost of their liberation? Well, Crocker is bullish on that front: the Iraqi economy is on schedule to grow by 6 percent, according to his testimony. Perhaps he is referring to the additional money dumped into Iraq’s economy by American taxpayers chipping in for the surge.

He certainly wasn’t basing his estimate on any improvement in Iraqi oil production or any other economic component. As the International Monetary Fund reported last month in its annual review of Iraq’s economy, “Economic growth has been slower than expected at the time of the last (review) mainly because the expected expansion of oil production has failed to materialize.” In case you haven’t noticed, oil is the Iraqi economy, yet a recent GAO report stated an additional $57 billion in US tax dollars will be needed to bring oil and electricity production to the level where it can satisfy Iraq’s domestic demand by the year 2015.

Ambassador Crocker actually had the nerve to compare the bloody religious fratricide in Iraq, which our inane invasion unleashed, to the American battle over state’s rights, once again reducing the complexities of world history to an easily understood but totally irrelevant example from the American experience. In that case, a better analogy might have been made to the American Indian wars, given that the only thing the United States has been able to do effectively in Iraq is unleash superior firepower. At the current rate, Iraq will be liberated when there are no Iraqis.

Perhaps that is why this week’s ABC/BBC poll shows that 70 percent of Iraqis believe security has deteriorated since the surge and that 60 percent believe attacks on US forces are justified. And 93 percent of Sunnis, whom the general and ambassador claim are joining our side, want to see us dead.

As for optimism, only 29 percent of Iraqis now think the situation will get better, as opposed to 64 percent who shared that optimism before the surge–which almost 70 percent of Iraqis believe has “hampered conditions for political dialogue, reconstruction and economic development.”

So, ambassadors and generals lie. Get used to it.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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