"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Monday, September 10, 2007

Petraeus' Day

So, the day we've all been waiting for finally arrived. General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker delivered their long-awaited testimony on the military, political, economic, and diplomatic situation in Iraq (Petraeus' testimony here and Crocker's here). The material itself was hardly earth-shattering. Gen. Petraeus mostly reiterated what we've seen with our own eyes for the past couple of months - the surge, in its initial stages, is working, violence is down, AQI has been hurt and driven from its safe havens, and local cooperation with our forces has grown - and asked for time to let the surge "run its course". By doing so, he said, we could start bringing the surge battalions home next summer. Ambassador Crocker's testimony was a little drier, dealing as it did with the banalities of finance, infrastructure, and the like, but I found some of it very interesting in that it fleshed out the local and provincial political scene a little more. Both of their statements can, I think, be summed up by something Gen. Petraeus said earlier: "We are, in short, a long way from the goal line, but we do have the ball and we are driving down the field." Petraeus and Crocker both want to be allowed to play all four quarters.

What happens now? I'm still trying to fill in the gaps for parts of the hearing that I missed throughout the day, so a little digestion time will be required (something, says Michael Yon, that most
wise people will allow themselves). I have little doubt that this hearing will be dissected down to its subatomic parts throughout the week. The Q & A was surprisingly civil (though like I said, I missed some and perhaps I didn't see the nasty parts); the only acrimony I saw was from the ever-present Code: Pink crowd, who injected their own always-intelligent commentary once or twice. MoveOn.org launched a preemptive rebuttal of Gen. Petraeus' testimony with this bileous work, but not even John Kerry and Harry Reid could bring themselves to embrace the accusation of treachery (perhaps they and other Dems will return MoveOn's donations as well). I'll try and track down the pieces of testimony I missed, and will wait to see who fires the first post-report shot at Petraeus and Crocker. I doubt I'll have to wait long.

Practically, I doubt today's report will generate much change in the Iraq debate, at least in places that matter. Leading Democrats signalled as much by dismissing his testimony before he gave it, as he gave it, and immediately after he gave it. It's sad, though hardly surprising, that they are so wedded to their determination to hang Bush with an Iraqi defeat that they won't take to heart the advice of the general they unanimously put in charge of the war effort, or refuse to see that our failure there will haunt the next president regardless of whether he (or she) is a Democrat or Republican. If there's any chance of salvaging something from Iraq - and the leading counterinsurgency expert in the American military thinks there is - don't we owe it to the taxpayers who've paid for the war, the soldiers who've fought and died for it, the Iraqis who've suffered under it, and the future generations of this country who will live under the war's legacy to exploit that opportunity to the fullest extent? For years critics complained that the Bush administration was sticking to a failed strategy, well beyond the point that its failure became obvious. Late in the game, Bush switched strategies, appointed a new crack commander for America's forces in Iraq, and did what many of the critics demanded: put more boots on the ground. Dating the "surge" from when the final battalion was in place, it's only been in full force for three months and has had uneven but significant success thus far. All the armchair quarterbacks in Washington allowed the failed strategy to proceed unhindered for years; why can they not permit a new strategy that's bearing promising fruit to proceed for a fraction of the time and see where it takes us? If it takes us forward by next summer, we will have struck a significant blow against the forces of extremism and for our and the region's best interests; if it fails, we can at least leave knowing that our best counterinsurgent commander, given the time and resources he asked for, could not solve the problem.

But, doubtless, the bigger picture will be lost in the fog of Washington politics. We'll see how things play out this week. As I said, I think the battle lines have hardened and we'll continue to see bitter words followed by pointless and unsupportable legislative initiatives that, far from frightening Iraq's already frightened (for their lives, literally, as Washington pols are not) leaders into national reconciliation, will instead convince them that we're not serious about supporting their nascent democracy and leave them scrambling to strengthen their own faction before our departure. Sad, that possibly the most gifted military commander of our generation will have his professional opinion on one of this nation's most critical conflicts tossed aside by the juggernaut of Beltway politicking.

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