Monday, September 10, 2007

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Open Petraeus-Crocker thread

Comment away on David Petraues and Ryan Crocker's presentations to Congress on the effects of the surge strategy.

My three questions:

1) Will anyone's mind be changed by what Petraeus and Crocker actually say? In other words, are there any undecideds actually left in Congress (and in the country, for that matter)?

2) How much should their testimony be weighed against the mutiple independent assessments of Iraq -- many of which are more pessimistic?

3) At what point does the failure of any political solution nullify whatever military gains have been achieved in the short run?

UPDATE: Kevin Drum is watching the hearings and points out a problem for Republicans:
Is it just me, or does anyone else think that Republicans are making a big mistake by spending all their TV time this morning complaining about accusations that Gen. Petraeus is cooking the books in his assessment of progress in Iraq? Repeating the accusation, even if it's only to denounce it, is still repeating the accusation.
The Washington Post's Shankar Vedantam would agree with Drum.

ANOTHER UPDATE: This BBC poll is making the rounds in the blogosphere -- and would seem to represent a direct challenge to the Petraeus/Crocker depiction of Iraq.

posted by Dan on 09.10.07 at 02:39 PM



1. Potentially, yes. Most people get all their news from TV. Ollie North's testimony had a significant public impact, as I recall. I don't know how good a speaker Petraeus is. Bush is a lousy speaker, which is why he mostly doesn't bother trying to rally public opinion by giving speeches on TV the way Reagan did.

2. Not too high, though they certainly have specialized knowledge that not every other assessment author has.

3. Some time, but that time is in the future, not already passed, as some would suggest.

posted by: y81 on 09.10.07 at 02:39 PM [permalink]

No, somewhat, and at least two years ago.

The first is an educated guess, the second a placeholder for analysis more lengthy than I have time for right now, and the third something I made my mind up about long ago.

posted by: Zathras on 09.10.07 at 02:39 PM [permalink]

1 Probably not, 2 Not greatly, 3 Years ago

The problem isn't a military one so focusing on a military solution is misguided.

posted by: Lord on 09.10.07 at 02:39 PM [permalink]

a) Probably not. Going on Fox News afterwards just says it all.

b) Alot. Honesty counts, and multiple data hepls.

c) Interestingly enough, it is the political failure that has been most succesful. The tribes are standing up, so we'll get a nice civil war when tehy finally kick us out. But it allows us to say "we're whippin al quaeda"

posted by: Nicholas Weaver on 09.10.07 at 02:39 PM [permalink]

Drum has a point- Republicans should be spending their time quoting all the positive things Dems had to say about Petraeus when they thought he would help their cause. Now, amazingly, he brings back news they hadnt anticipated and he's a Bush flunky. Figure that one out.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 09.10.07 at 02:39 PM [permalink]

I didn't watch these hearings, but reading Instapundit reminds me that the one thing hearings are always good for is making members of Congress look bad. I think the one thing you can count on is a decline in Congressional approval ratings. There must be some discipline (game theory? evolutionary psychology? rational choice theory?) which can explain the sort of collective suicide to which congressmembers drive themselves when there are important hearings.

posted by: y81 on 09.10.07 at 02:39 PM [permalink]

1) Not many.

2) The question about the negative assessments vs. the positive on by Petraeus and Crocker is whether the positive aspects of the situation can reasonably be leveraged to overturn the negative ones or is it overwhelmingly more likely that the negative aspects would feed on themselves to wipe out the positive ones? Given that Petraeus does not dispute any negative aspects, the only explanation for an upbeat assessment is an implicit belief in the former. It is widely said that the absence of political reconciliation would obliterate our gains in security as soon as the troops leave, which partially supports the latter, but I'm not aware of any case for the notion that the lack of reconciliation at the center would obliterate the grass roots political gain, leaving a hole in the latter position.

3) There has not been a complete failure at getting a political solution, we have made gains at the local level. The question is how those gains could be leveraged for political gains in the center. My guess is that doing so could require new elections. The next election would take place no later than 2009, though it could take place earlier if either Maliki decides to hold one earlier or a no-confidence motion forces one.

One thing I would say though, is that before deploying an early election strategy, it would be worthwhile to have an idea of what would like result. The one thing I would absolutely aim for is distribution of power in parliament that would kick Sadr/Badr out of MOI which would allow reform of the police to take place. Other than that, I can say with confidence that there would be more Sunnis elected because the Sunni populace would not boycott this time.

On Republicans perpetuating the perception of Petraeus as cooking the books by mentioning it in any fashion: ignoring it can be just as effective at perpetuating the perception. What Vedantam points out is that the way to bust a myth is to build a positive case for a more accurate alternative without any reference to the myth.

For Petraeus, I can think of two ways to do this. One is to cite examples of his pointing out negative aspects of the situation showing that he is not inclined to happy talk. The second would be to cite respected neutral observers who say that Petraeus is honest in his assessments of the situation. Examples: Tom Ricks, author of Fiasco, said on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC that he used to dread going into the Green Zone because of all the happy talk, but that under Gen. Petraeus he no longer finds that to be the case. Trudy Rubin, author of Willful Blindness, wrote that despite "the weakness at Iraq's center,... there really is some movement at the grass roots." Finally, in lambasting Petraeus' judgment about the situation in Iraq, Sen. Biden admitted that Petraeus was being honest in his issues of fact.

posted by: Scott Smith on 09.10.07 at 02:39 PM [permalink]

Unfortunately, while Petraeus is certainly less inclined toward happy talk than Bush's previous generals -- maybe simply because he knows no one would believe it anymore -- it's painfully clear from today's presentation that he does have a strong tendency, to, er, monkey around with the data. See:

posted by: Bruce Moomaw on 09.10.07 at 02:39 PM [permalink]

George Will tonight does about the best overall summation of the futility of staying in (most of) Iraq as I've seen anywhere: .

As for that new ABC-BBC poll, note two especially interesting features. First, 93% of Sunnis and 50% of Shiites told the pollsters that attacks on US troops are "justified". (In fact, 34% of Shiites said that attacks on US troops by AL-QAEDA -- supposedly their blood enemy -- are justified.) Second, 56% of Shiites and fully 97% of Sunnis still support a "unified, centralized Iraqi government", rather than a partitioned federation -- it's just that both sides insist that THEY should be the ones running that unified, centalized government. Clearly both sides are simply champing at the bit for reconcilation with the US and with each other.

posted by: Bruce Moomaw on 09.10.07 at 02:39 PM [permalink]

This is the late 1960s all over again, and will likely have the same results.

I thought that was a once in a lifetime fiasco.

How many helicopters will we need to evacuate the Green zone?

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 09.10.07 at 02:39 PM [permalink]

It's not really so much the failure of the political solution as the absolutely dramatic impact of the Golden Mosque bombing in 2006. It's extremely unsurprising that the numbers were worse in 2007 than in 2004 or 2005; 2006 was a real annus horribilis, and casualties increased incredibly among civilians after the bombing in February. The "political solution" had little to do with that one way or the other. Of course, it's pretty easy to claim that since conditions existed that made the bombing such a spark, something may have inevitably happened anyway.

posted by: John Thacker on 09.10.07 at 02:39 PM [permalink]

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