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Come September

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Andrew Sullivan points to an important interview this morning in the (London) Times with General Petraeus which includes, among other things, a discussion about the time tables.

Your mission sounds like a long one, what about the informal deadline set by your return in mid-September to report back to the Congress in Washington?

“That is a deadline for a report not a deadline for a change in policy, at least not that I am aware of. Ambassador Crocker and I intend to go back and provide a snapshot at that time, however focused the photograph is at that time and begin to describe what has been achieved and what has not been achieved and also to provide some sense of implications of courses of action. Neither of us is under any illusion.”

Would you like the surge to continue indefinitely?

“It depends on what the sense is for the prospects of achieving Iraq’s constitution. I hope that we can put time back on the Washington clock. Al-Qaeda is keenly aware of the Washington clock. They are obviously going to have a surge of their own. You saw an example of this yesterday. They wanted to make sure that the headlines about the launch of the offensive don’t create too much hope.”

Andrew’s analysis:

Maybe I’m misreading him, but my impression from Petraeus’s rhetoric is that those people who believe this war is coming to a close are deluding themselves.

If the Times interview is what Petraeus is telling Bush and Cheney, then they have only begun to ramp up this war in Iraq. My bet is they will try to extend the war into Iran if they can, and are obviously looking for a trigger to do so. But until then, they have no intention of changing a thing, except perhaps putting even more troops on the line. From everything we know about Bush, he will continue on, even if a majority of both Houses oppose war-funding. He doesn’t need his party any more. Only a veto-proof margin will suffice, and if that happens, expect a massive Rudy-driven, Romney-approved “stab-in-the-back” campaign, accusing all critics of being supporters of Iran or al Qaeda. Or Bush will force the Congress to cut off all funds, and then declare the troops abandoned and betrayed by the “enemy within.”

His read is the same as mine. I have had an opportunity in the last couple of weeks to meet and talk with some of Petraeus’s senior advisors and I was consistently impressed at what I saw and heard. That is, impressed with the mental firepower being brought to bear on the problem and the earnestness of the analysis. Not optimistic about the situation – and neither were they. They present the situation as complex, difficult and uncertain. They have some very promising strategies. But as one of them told me, “I can’t really say I have a sense of what victory would look like at this point.” That’s because the mission the Bush Administration took on for itself was highly unrealistic and inflated, and even as it has recently been ratcheted down, it fails to take properly into account the domestic political realities in Iraq. Yes, what would “victory” be, exactly? The present political cards don’t seem to hold a winning hand for anyone in any ultimate sense – at best a sort of standoff in which the level of sectarian violence is kept to a dull roar.

But aside from this, we need to keep a spotlight on the marketing of the surge by the Bush Administration. It was, remember, just a “surge,” a time-limited affair. There was to be a September accounting. The suggestion was that it would be a blip on the historical chart. Those representations were false when made. They never fairly reflected the advice that General Petraeus and his staff were giving. The simple fact is that this Administration has engaged in bait-and-switch marketing of its war plans from the time it came to office. And it never seems to be called for this.

Of course, the mainstream broadcast media don’t call them. But as usual, there is one news source that does a terrific job. It’s Jon Stewart and the Daily Show. If you missed last night’s, be sure to tune in to the rebroadcast this evening.

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