No Comment — August 16, 2007, 11:06 am

Liberate General Petraeus

Is General Petraeus being held captive in the famous man-sized safe that resides in Dick Cheney’s office?

The Bush Administration ploughed ahead with its ramp-up of forces in Iraq over broad public and Congressional opposition with a pledge. In September, we were told, there would be a report back, and we’d see how well the new tactics are working. As time progressed, both the White House and the Baghdad Command worked hard to dampen expectations.

The report date is just around the corner. In the meantime we had the interim report, which gave us a very good picture of what the September report will say. It painted a very mixed picture: successes in Al Anbar and a few other, principally Sunni areas; much tougher than anticipated conditions in Baghdad, and real problems with the Baghdad government, which seems to be pursuing plans of its own. The Iraqi Government is openly after ethnic cleansing—driving the Sunnis out of the capital. Overall, it was not the dazzling success story that the White House had reckoned with. Neither was it a clear failure. Like most things in life it was a pile of mixed messages from which it is very difficult to distill a simple answer. But that’s the rub. The Bush White House loves to keep things simple. And it will sacrifice reality in a second to achieve that objective.

For months now, the Bush White House has labored patiently to build the reputation of General Petraeus. We’ve been told he is the mastermind behind the “surge” (which in the meantime has been transformed into something else, namely an escalation). We’ve seen him cited as the clearest evidence that micromanagement of the war with Dick Cheney’s famous eight-thousand mile screwdriver is over. Now, we’re told, the uniformed service professionals are back in charge. Frankly, you have to be either a Beltway pundit, or exceedingly dense (not that these categories are mutually exclusive) to believe any of this. Instead, Petraeus is emerging as the latest in a long series of White House sock puppets. You see, there are two General Petraeuses: the real General Petraeus and the one the White House keeps in a closet and delivers up to issue the White House’s messages from time to time.

And in the last thirty-six hours we’ve seen some very alarming evidence of this.

White House Seizes Control of the “Petraeus Report”
The Los Angeles Times has produced a detailed and impressive report on Gen. Petraeus’s current analysis of the situation in Iraq, in a piece by Julian Barnes and Peter Siegel. But the most jarring segment of the article is its disclosure that the White House has seized editorial control over the report, driven by evident fear that Petraeus will not fully support their agenda and will present the current situation in daunting complexity.

Despite Bush’s repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government. And though Petraeus and Crocker will present their recommendations on Capitol Hill, legislation passed by Congress leaves it to the president to decide how to interpret the report’s data.

Petraeus Will Be Gagged
Given that the White House, not General Petraeus, will author the “Petraeus Report,” this left public testimony as the only option for getting the truth out. Petraeus was to have appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees to answer questions about the September report. Placed under oath and in a public forum, the White House would no longer be able to manipulate his words. He could speak openly and honestly, disclosing the problems and the prospects as he understands them. And this prospect is petrifying to the Bush White House. Jonathan Weisman and Karen DeYoung report in this morning’s Washington Post:

Senior congressional aides said yesterday that the White House has proposed limiting the much-anticipated appearance on Capitol Hill next month of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to a private congressional briefing, suggesting instead that the Bush administration’s progress report on the Iraq war should be delivered to Congress by the secretaries of state and defense.

White House officials did not deny making the proposal in informal talks with Congress, but they said yesterday that they will not shield the commanding general in Iraq and the senior U.S. diplomat there from public congressional testimony required by the war-funding legislation President Bush signed in May. “The administration plans to follow the requirements of the legislation,” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in response to questions yesterday. The skirmishing is an indication of the rising anxiety on all sides in the remaining few weeks before the presentation of what is widely considered a make-or-break assessment of Bush’s war strategy, and one that will come amid rising calls for a drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq.

With the report due by Sept. 15, officials at the White House, in Congress and in Baghdad said that no decisions have been made on where, when or how Petraeus and Crocker will appear before Congress. Lawmakers from both parties are growing worried that the report — far from clarifying the United States’ future in Iraq — will only harden the political battle lines around the war.

Brace yourself: the next wave of Iraq bamboozlement is only days away.

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