Saturday, July 14, 2007

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Meet David Petraeus, patsy or savior

William Kristol, "Why Bush Will Be A Winner," Washington Post, July 15, 2007:

Bush has the good fortune of having finally found his Ulysses S. Grant, or his Creighton Abrams, in Gen. David H. Petraeus. If the president stands with Petraeus and progress continues on the ground, Bush will be able to prevent a sellout in Washington. And then he could leave office with the nation on course to a successful (though painful and difficult) outcome in Iraq. With that, the rest of the Middle East, where so much hangs in the balance, could start to tip in the direction of our friends and away from the jihadists, the mullahs and the dictators....

What it comes down to is this: If Petraeus succeeds in Iraq, and a Republican wins in 2008, Bush will be viewed as a successful president.

Thomas E. Ricks, "Bush Leans On Petraeus as War Dissent Deepens," Washington Post, July 15, 2007:
Some of Petraeus's military comrades worry that the general is being set up by the Bush administration as a scapegoat if conditions in Iraq fail to improve. "The danger is that Petraeus will now be painted as failing to live up to expectations and become the fall guy for the administration," one retired four-star officer said.

Bush has mentioned Petraeus at least 150 times this year in his speeches, interviews and news conferences, often setting him up in opposition to members of Congress.

"It seems to me almost an act of desperation, the administration turning to the one most prominent official who cannot act politically and whose credibility is so far unsullied, someone who is or should be purely driven by the facts of the situation," said Richard Kohn, a specialist in U.S. military history at the University of North Carolina. "What it tells me, given the hemorrhaging of support in Congress, is that we're entering some new phase of the end game."

In his public comments, Bush has not leaned nearly as heavily on the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, Petraeus's political counterpart in Baghdad. At his news conference Thursday, the president mentioned Petraeus 12 times but Crocker only twice, both times in his prepared statement.

This is not a "same planet, different worlds" kind of comparison. If the Iraq war ends well, then Kristol's scenario is correct; if the status quo persists or worsens, then the Ricks scenario is correct.

Unfortunately for Petraeus, I suspect most experts would give Kristol's scenario less than a 10% chance of coming true.

posted by Dan on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM


I'm not saying Kristol's vision is necessarily going to be realized, but Rick's version just strikes me as dowright stupid. B/c Bush mentioned his name a lot, he's being set up? I'd see it more as a vote of confidence.

In any case, Petraeus is no dummy. He's smarter than most of us who navel-gaze on these blogs all day. He's even smarter than Thomas Ricks. Do you really think he'd stick around if Bush was about to sell him out?

posted by: Dan on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]


Ricks does not report that Petraeus is being set up. He reports that GWB's public statements indicate that he is pinning his hopes on what Petraeus can report in September and that Petraeus's colleagues are concerned that, in doing so, Petraeus could be the fall guy if things don't go well.

Not too many people, actually, are smarter than Tom Ricks. Nor are there many as well-informed as he is about what is going on in Iraq who, as he does, still hold out some hope of an outcome that is somewhere north of utterly tragic.

posted by: THS on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Regardless of the President's intent, nobody is going to buy the Petraeus fallguy tactic at this stage in the game. Top Democrats are on record for pumping the guy up, as obviously the WH and top repubs are. If anything, Dems are in the difficult position of having got what they asked for in the general, and now trying to cut his legs out barely a month into the full scope of his plan.

Here's the deal- politically (and i believe realistically) if Petraeus can't do this, nobody can. A failure now will simply reinforce the idea that the entire venture was hopeless (right or wrong). Truthfully even now Petraeus doesnt have the authority or the resources to TRULY be held accountable for Iraq as a whole- the WH has been careful about not handing over a McArthur scope of command since the beginning. Bremmer had the position and clout to stand up to Rumsfeld and/or the WH and demand the resources (military and civilian) needed, but he was both too incompetant to know what they were and too politically craven to make the stand. It shouldnt be a surprise that since no individual was ever truly appointed to manage Iraq, and hence hope to have a truly integrated civil/military strategy, we shouldnt be surprised that the integration has been a debacle. As it is Petraeus has only so much authority and very little to deal with the civil/political end of Iraq. A strong civilian counterpart could mitigate some of this problem, but that hasnt materialized and as i understand it the new ambassador isnt due until 08 (ahh, Washington bureaocrat timelines, gotta love em).

Anyway, either Petraeus pulls off something akin to a miracle and we manage not to muff it politically, or Bush gets the full (and ultimately well deserved) blame for mismanaging the occupation. Bush should be blamed either way, but similar to Lincoln if everything somehow turns out relatively ok despite the disasters along the way, he will end up hailed as a visionary.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

No, the new ambassador, Ryan Crocker, was appointed in early March of this year and assumed his position in Baghdad at the of that month.

posted by: THS on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

If the Iraq war ends well? Hasn't the idiot in chief himself said that history will be the judge, that generations will parade by before the true vision of victory emerges? Hasn't the administration spent the last six months slyly changing the meaning of 'ending well' to incremental progress?

I must assume I guess that Kristol is not a fool - could be but, jeez, seems unlikely, no? - so that must mean that his almost too ridiculous to laugh at editorial in the Post today is part of the 'prepare the ground for the blaming of the Democrats' campaign; this must be another salvo in the rhetorical war to make 'victory' seem inevitable but, oh no, stupid country, you elected Hillary and now she's ruined everything.

C'mon Dan, were you just tired when you wrote this post or what?

posted by: ohman on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

I must assume I guess that Kristol is not a fool

A dangerous assumption, IMHO. Kristol was on the Brian Lehrer show last week on WNYC making the comment that there were ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam. Even Cheney has given up on that. I honestly don't know why anyone would take Kristol seriously any more.

It appears to me that what Bush is doing now is just trying to run out the clock and leave Iraq's problems in the lap of whoever takes over at 12 noon 1/20/09.

posted by: Randy Paul on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Petraeus was one of two authors of the new Counter Insurgency Manual.

He knows what it'd take to win and there's no way in a hundred years he can accomplish what needs to be done with what he's got. It's that simple.

Petraeus is a good soldier who follows orders but Bush didn't order an escalation to win, he did it to run out the clock.

posted by: markg8 on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

...and Kristol says in the piece that its better than 50-50. So it is a one earth-different world phemomenon.

posted by: Wisewon on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

...and Kristol says in the piece that its better than 50-50. So it is a one earth-different world phemomenon.

posted by: Wisewon on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Rose-colored glases or not, there's evidence the surge is having positive effects in Iraq. If we fail there, and Ricks' argument is confirmed, chalk up a lot of that to Iraq fatigue, casualty sensitivity, and the like. I agree with your points, but 10 percent chance? Sheesh! How about 1 in 4?

posted by: Donald Douglas on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Of course he is being set up.

Since 2005 the administration's primary goal has been to find a patsy because they know that the occupation isn't going to end on their terms.

They understood this finally after invasion when it was too late. They would prefer to be able to pin that blunder on military ineptitude.

posted by: Babar on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

How can Petraeus succeed when he is not in a position to do so? Come September will Bush anoint him viceroy of Iraq and allow him to decree a settlement? Iraq might be about as much a democracy as Egypt, but more likely as much as Iran, no more.

posted by: Lord on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

This is more a case of "same paper, different audiences."

Though they are both writing in the Washington Post, Ricks is reporting for a general audience. Kristol is speaking exclusively to the kind of people likely to read his own magazine -- the folks who still believe President Bush is a strong leader even if he is not quite a master geostrategist, and who dislike liberals and Democrats almost as much as they dislike terrorists.

This right now is the base of the Republican Party, the people most likely to vote in Republican primaries. Kristol's is a message of reassurance for them (and not, interestingly, a message of enthusiasm for any of the Republicans running to replace Bush in 2008 -- a measure perhaps of how completely the GOP has become George W. Bush's party).

Ricks (or at least some of the people he quotes) raises the question of whether Gen. Petraeus is being set up to fail. There isn't much doubt by this point that loyalty in George Bush's world is a one-way street; exceptions are made for a few people, but David Petraeus is not one of them. The question must be asked, though, whether the burden of responsibility for completing a political mission with only military means at his disposal is one Petraeus has been given, or one he has taken.

What I know of Gen. Petraeus is that he is a soldier before anything else. He spent his first two tours in Iraq watching his superiors implement policies with which he disagreed; twice he has seen the areas he was responsible for in Iraq deteriorate markedly once he rotated back to the United States. It would be only human of Petraeus to think he could do better if given charge of the whole American effort in Iraq, even though this is 2007 and not 2003. Moreover at the beginning of this year he could see as well as anyone that the opportunity to take this command would be his once, and once only.

Perhaps it is asking too much of someone with Petraeus' background to expect him to tell a President offering him the command in Iraq that the mission is hopeless. One would expect Petraeus to have great confidence both in his command abilities and his ideas about counterinsurgency; one would not expect much awareness on his part of the larger picture, in which American interests around the world are suffering serious and continuing damage because the American government is preoccupied with Iraq. It may not even have occurred to Petraeus to refuse Bush's offer of command in Iraq.

But that is what he should have done. As things stand he has grasped full responsibility for a campaign that was presented to the American public as an effort to buy time for Iraqi leaders to do things they plainly have no intention of doing; that is being launched when Americans have lost confidence in their political leadership; and that is being conducted by a military establishment under tremendous strain. Petraeus may well get blamed when things in Iraq do not work out well, though not perhaps any more than Gen. Abrams got blamed for the way Vietnam turned out. It seems to me he has asked to be put in his position, and must accept whatever comes his way because of that.

posted by: Zathras on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Petraeus is a kind of Renaissance man, compared to almost all of his detractors and supporters, both. Don't underestimate him. If anyone can make solid bricks without (much) straw, he can.

A fundamental fact about the public "consensus" that the "war is lost" and we should "bring them home" is that it is a mile wide and an inch deep; it is primarily a construct of highly selective and prejudicial reportage and propagandization by a politicized press. But some balancing information is beginning to seep through, despite the gatekeepers' best efforts.

Enough, and the "consensus" will flip even faster than an Anbar tribe given a chance to get out from under the brutal dominance of fundamentalist AQ masters. And for much the same reason.

posted by: Brian H on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

The burden of proof should be on the crowd that has proclaimed many other false dawns and rose colored scenerios.

At what point do even the supporters run out of patience with lowered benchmarks moving definitions of "victory" and cheap rhetorical slight of hand on who the enemy really is. Anything to keep this charade going...the next six month have been "make or break" for years. I don't understand how anybody without a finanical or professional interest in this endeavor and administration could continue to support it.

Even at the peak of the "surge" the number of coalition forces in theatre will not pass peak levels of the conflict. And the surge cannot be sustained for any length of time. So what we are talking about is really a STALL. A stall that buys time to find scapegoats.

posted by: "last throes" on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

I agree with your points, but 10 percent chance? Sheesh! How about 1 in 4?

I actually thought Dan was being too generous with 10%.


posted by: Guy on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

This isn't be first time I've read the "Bush is setting up Petraeus" meme, but I hope it's the last.

This is not because I think that the Iraq war is righteous or helpful. This is not because I think that Bush is any good. This isn't even because I think that Bush is above doing such a thing; Bremer, for instance, is taking much of the blame for the errors 2003-4.

It's enough to remember that Bush and the Senate agreed to send Petraeus out there; so Bush has already shifted much of the blame (if there is blame to be had) over to Congress. Second, Nixon's strategy 1968-73 was assuredly NOT to blame the South Vietnamese, to whom he was Vietnamising the local security. Finally, distrust with Bush is so high that no-one would believe his blame-shifting even if he produced incontrovertible footage of Petraeus in a secret meeting with Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad, and al-Sadr at the bottom of an Iranian well.

Bush is not going to point at Petraeus if the effort should fail. He is going to point at the Democratic Congress, like the Republicans did in the mid to late 1970s.

posted by: David Ross on 07.14.07 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

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