Some of you may remember the Sesame Street song that shows four different things, three of which are alike and one that is not. By the time the song is over, you are supposed to guess which of the four is not like the other three. And with respect to a number of recent developments on Iraq, the near unanimous mutiny by different yet unexpected parts of our government on the events going on in Iraq and the “progress” that is most certainly not being made on any meaningful level has one component that sticks out like a sore thumb.
Heading into the Congressional recess, there was the general consensus that the Democrats would stay united, very uniform and consistently vocal about the unequivocal need for us to move towards an exit strategy – whether it is cutting funding, setting a deadline for withdrawal or highlighting the reality that some small gains in security in some areas are (1) welcome and great news but (2) really irrelevant in the overall scheme of things, given the lack of benchmarks being met, the increase in violence and intensity of attacks and the complete breakdown of the political process. There was also a general concern that the Petraeus report would be a whitewash but touted by the republicans as reason for another couple of Friedman units. There was also a thought that the military itself, the intelligence community and other areas of the government would either stay on the sidelines or have their findings remain classified.
Strangely, as with much “conventional wisdom”, much of this is pretty much completely off the mark. So, in that respect, all of those things are like each other.
For starters, we find out that the Petraeus report will be written by the White House with “input” from Petraeus, effectively blunting any level of potential objectivity. Not that this wasn’t on people’s minds to begin with, but the fact that it was leaked more than a month before the report would be issued gave ample time for Democrats and many others to shine a light on this. In fact, Senator Clinton referred to the report as “the White House report”, and even Chris Matthews called bullshit on the report.
Then, we find out that the new NIE’s key findings have been declassified ahead of the
Petraeus White House report and it contradicts all of the late July-early August preemptive optimism about “I think that we will be pleasantly surprised with the Petraeus report” and “let’s wait until September and see what the Petraeus report will say”. The report offers a sobering assessment of what is actually happening, and what the prognosis is for the next six to twelve months. Violence up and continuing to be up. Ethnic cleansing “segregation” in Baghdad as the main reason for small decreases in violence. More deaths and more attacks. A government in a “very precarious position” with little hope of any major progress. Still no electricity, clean water, jobs and more refugees.
While this was a welcome dose of reality, I don’t understand why this NIE was made public while many others were not, or were heavily redacted. This administration certainly knows how to keep things from ever seeing the light of day (or at least the truth from ever seeing the light of day), and the assessment by the intelligence community here was not painting a pretty picture by any means.
And if that wasn’t enough, over the past couple of days we have seen even more piling on by some unlikely sources. As pointed out by The Angry Rakkasan, even the Pentagon, military analysts and military commanders are throwing their hands up and will not be presenting any form of consensus opinion to Bush. Again, not only do you have a situation where military personnel who are still involved and have a vested interest (as opposed to all of the retired generals whose words were not made public until either after they were relieved from duty or just before they were “coincidentally” replaced) speaking out against any continuance of these failed and deadly non-policies, but the fact that they will be doing so is being made public.
On top of that, a new draft GAO report is noting that only three of the eighteen benchmarks are being met, further reinforcing the fact that no promises are being kept, no actions are being followed through on and no real progress is being made. Once again, the fact that such a damaging-to-the-administration yet truthful assessment of the events in Iraq is being leaked before its final version is
scrubbed “reviewed” by the Defense Department is stunning.
Last but certainly not least, we have the Democratic Party’s positioning on Iraq, which is especially noteworthy in light of the Petraeus testimony before Congress on September 11 as well as the upcoming debate on funding (where Bush has just asked for another $50 billion on top of the prior request of $150 billion). And while there has been some positive statements from some Democrats (including Pelosi, Reid, Clinton and a few other traditionally reliable sources), there has been a surprising number of Congressional Democrats who have made the “get out of Iraq” goal much tougher than it needs to be.
First there was House Majority Whip Clyburn’s preemptive comments about a “positive report by Petraeus potentially splitting House Democrats on a timetable for withdrawal. Of course, this set the table for hand wringing, even before all of the above news and reports were released. Way to shoot yourself and your party in the foot while simultaneously putting it in your mouth, Rep. Clyburn.
Then there were comments made by Rep. Jerry McNerney that seemed to contradict each other. First, he saw progress after a trip to Iraq and was willing to be a bit more flexible (these comments were not helped by some “clarification” by the columnist who wrote the article). Then, he clarified his comments by reaffirming his commitment to a “date certain” for withdrawal. Then, he clarified those comments by saying that he is willing to be flexible for more time if need be. Certainly, while we know that he is for a withdrawal, his comments did not do much to help the cause - especially in light of the reports that were coming out all around this same time.
And of course, there was Rep. Brian Baird making comments in support of the continued escalation in Iraq, even as his constituents ripped him for it, and Senator Clinton’s VFW speech last week where she alternated between talking about failed policies in Iraq and the need to withdraw troops with talk about progress being made in certain areas (wholly irrelevant to the big picture) – all while latching onto a right wing extremist frame of “preparing to fight the new war” just as the administration is ratcheting up rhetoric about bombing Iran (not to mention the two “wars” we are currently already getting our asses handed to us in).
While Baird’s supporters say that he is still for a withdrawal and voted against the original AUMF and Clinton’s supporters point out that she was talking about the “war on terrorism”, they fail to realize the larger point and impact that their words have in contradicting every other assessment, the bigger picture and the larger struggle between those who are truly doing everything they can to come up with a true way out of Iraq and those who are issuing platitudes or not doing all they can. There is a big difference between the words “keeping us safe” and “rebuilding the military” as opposed to “staying on offense” or cheapening the word “war”. In the debate over Iraq, any wavering from a firm, consistent and solid message will spell doom for getting any closer to withdrawal.
And somehow, while the “out of Iraq” crowd (now nearing 70+% of America) is finding unlikely allies from the intelligence community, the military commanders, even some members of the press who are actually reporting things that are newsworthy and calling bullshit on rosy assessments, somehow, the one place where we figured to have the strongest ally is not that place.
Being on the wrong side of the truth about Iraq is not a good place to be. Some of those who were traditionally on that side are, for whatever reason, coming over from the “dark side”. However, there are some who, for whatever reason, feel that it is better to hedge their words and offer some support towards this administration – possibly in the hopes that it makes them look “stronger”, or “willing to negotiate” or whatever other reason. However, it only makes them look foolish in light of all the other news coming out.
With the upcoming debate on funding, it will be interesting to see how this plays out, and if one of these things is still not like the others.
Let’s hope that they all get on the same page. For our sake, for the Iraqi’s sake, and for their sake as well.