Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A surge toward defeat

All the troops for Gen. David Petraeus' surge have been in place for only a few short weeks ... almost everyone admits the upshot of U.S. failure will be bloody and far-reaching ... Petraeus is set to provide an early progress report in mid-September ... even The New York Times and the BBC are reporting tangible signs of military progress on the ground ... and a new clutch of panicked Republicans join anti-war, anti-Bush Democrats in saying we need a new strategy.

It's unreal. Congress (literally) cannot wait for Petraeus' September report. Congress' wannabe generals already "know" the surge isn't working or cannot work, and they don't need no stinkin' commander to tell them. Apparently, they've given Petraeus enough time—a few weeks!—and the job's not done. Never mind that the Senate unanimously confirmed Petraeus and sent him on his way with baritoned "Godspeeds." They won't give him another two months, much less a chance to succeed. They're too invested in defeat or their own pet theories about the war.

Lawmakers who have opposed the war have every right to do the only thing they can to stop a military action: cut off funds. The same goes for lawmakers who have said from the start that the surge is wrongheaded or cannot possibly succeed.

But what are we to make of the GOP grandees rushing forth now—just weeks after all the troops are in place, two months before Petraeus provides an initial progress report—to demand a new course in Iraq? That they're either a little late or a little early. That something other than the situation in Iraq is behind their throat-clearing statements—say, their long-standing views on foreign policy (Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar) or their political situation at home (New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici).

Whatever, the timing is self-indulgent and irresponsible. After all the chatter, Congress won't pass anything that changes anything in Iraq before it heads off on summer recess. Even if the votes are there to overcome a Senate filibuster of this or that effort to short-circuit the surge—a funding cut-off, a war deauthorization, a withdrawal timetable—there won't be enough votes to override a veto.

So why the rush to the microphones? Good question. Sad to say there are no good answers.

Domenici wants everyone to know he's not knocking the military effort. He's upset with the Iraqi government for not meeting certain benchmarks the administration set out. But why bail out on the surge at this particular point on those grounds? The fact is that the Iraqi government has stepped up on the military front, and we'll know in September whether the Iraqi parliament has made headway on the political benchmarks. Also, we're seeing political and military progress on the part of Iraqis at the local level.

Lugar offers three reasons for concluding "the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved." He could have set them out months ago; there's no reason he couldn't have waited another two months—unless any upbeat news from Petraeus might make them seem dated.

One is "the political fragmentation in Iraq." The second is "the growing stress on our military." But it's the last that's worth mulling. "The third factor inhibiting our ability to establish a stable, multisectarian government ... is the timetable imposed by our own domestic political process...," Lugar stated. "The president and his team must come to grips with the shortened political timeline in this country for military operations in Iraq. Some will argue that political timelines should always be subordinated to military necessity, but that is unrealistic in a democracy."

In the summer of 2007—a few weeks after the surge is complete and few months before the general that these senators voted to confirm reports back—this is what passes for serious wartime thinking. And from a famously sober senator no less.

But, hey, it's only verbiage for now, right? Congress will debate and debate—heck, maybe even pass something for Bush to veto—and then leave sizzling Capitol Hill for August. Everyone will still end up waiting for Petraeus' report. No problem, right? Maybe, unless you're in even more sizzling Iraq fighting in an operation that some lawmakers think has already failed or should end, come what may.

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