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After Petraeus: Congress Bedazzled, The People Betrayed


"You can’t kill everyone out there"

            –General David Petraeus, 13 Sept. 2007, NPR
            Explaining why Iraq needs to be a "thinking man’s war" 


 
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For those who didn’t hear it already, two of the seven young soldiers on active duty in Iraq who wrote the extraordinarily powerful op-ed in the New York Times condemning the Bush administration strategy and propaganda claims of "success" in the war, were killed in Iraq earlier this week. Every retiring general in recent years has criticized the war in Iraq AFTER leaving the military.  Where are the active duty generals to match the courage of their lower ranking colleagues?
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**        Gen. Petraeus’ report calls for staying the course in Iraq, slightly tinkering with troop numbers.  He did not mention the Pentagon’s short-term plan to send an additional 4,000 troops to Iraq in the next few weeks. 
 
**        The report was crafted to escalate U.S. pressure against Iran. 
 
**        Press reports that "the pressure for a large-scale withdrawal has faded" are accurate. There is no indication the Democrats are prepared to seriously fight back. 
 
**        There are significant unanswered questions regarding the validity of many of Petraeus’ claims of decreasing violence, improving standards of living, etc. 
 
**        New polls indicate Iraqis even more opposed to the occupation, more supportive of an immediate withdrawal, and far more negative in assessing their lives, than at any time during the war and occupation.
 
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The multiply-repeated statements from Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker almost sidelined the usually central Bush administration justification for the occupation of Iraq – the so-called "global war on terror."  It came up in questions, but was otherwise ignored. Cong. Ackerman even pushed on the issue, saying that if the "surge" in Iraq was really able to find and eliminate terrorists who might attack the U.S., no one would want to withdraw any troops.  But that was not the case, he said, because the Iraq War is not about terrorism.
 
What Ackerman didn’t do was point out the obvious: the target du jour for this round of spin is Iran.  The "troubling" news that Petraeus described as counter-balancing his otherwise "good news" is that Iran is more involved in Iran than the U.S. anticipated. Iran is a bigger problem than we thought. Iran is responsible for the deaths of U.S. service-members. Iran is evil incarnate.  While Petraeus denied a reporter’s question of whether his speech was designed to ratchet up pressure against Iran, there is no question that that was the main text. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined the campaign, calling Iran "a very troublesome neighbor," and her deputy, John Negroponte weighed in with allegations of Iranian arms being provided to the resurgent Taliban,
 
During his presentation Monday in the House of Representatives, members of congress from both parties seemed too intimidated by the general’s chestful of medals and unblinking calculating demeanor to even think of challenging anything he said. There were feistier exchanges in the Senate, but still no indication that anyone was prepared to substantively challenge the Petraeus-Bush stay-the-course, pull out a few thousand troops, get back to the January 2007 "pre-surge" levels by summer of 2008, and settle in for a long, long time.  He actually said some version of "I’ll come back in March [2008] and tell you how many troops can come home."
 
Petraeus’ advice was to pull out about four thousand "surge" troops by the end of 2007, and consider withdrawing the rest of the 30,000 "surge" troops by the summer 2008. That would leave the "pre-surge" level of 130,000 troops to remain in Iraq for the indefinite future. But even the claim that there will be an overall reduction of 4,000 troops by the end of this year turns out to be false.  The Pentagon announced last week that they will increase troops in Iraq by 4,000 in the next few weeks, bringing the total to 172,000.  So any so-called "reduction" of 4,000 "surge" troops in December will simply return troop numbers to the expanded 168,000 total of today.
 
By Thursday the media had agreed that Bush and Congress were essentially on the same "compromising" page. The New York Times headline was "Bush to Sell Limited Iraq Pullout as Middle Way," while the Washington Post featured "Democrats Push Toward Middle on Iraq Policy."
 
The Republicans are likely delighted that Petraeus called for a slight adjustment of troop numbers, a small withdrawal that they can embrace as evidence that it is NOT a stay-the-course strategy.
 
Democrats are repeating their worn-out mantra "we don’t have the votes" to de-fund the war. But many organizations in the peace movement are looking at a different way to stop the war without risking a veto. 



*    Congressman David Obey of Wisconsin is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, where the new $141 billion (or more) supplemental funding bill must start. He can simply refuse to allow the bill to be voted out of committee – thus stalling it.  Bush cannot veto a bill that has not been voted on.  The speaker of the House could do an end-run around the Committee to demand a floor vote, but California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is unlikely to want to appear that eager to allow a vote to continue a war that 70% of Americans want ended.



*    Congress (or a Committee) can demand that a revenue stream be identified to cover the $141 billion cost of the war supplemental. That means the administration must spell out where it will get the money: raising taxes on war profiteers? Increasing capital gains tax? OR, more likely, cutting social services in poor communities, closing hospitals, borrowing more from China…?
 
Congress and the press appeared very impressed with Petraeus’ charts and graphs. But no one demanded explanations of where the figures came from or how they were calculated.  The report essentially began with the period of the run-up to the "surge;" there was no attention paid to the first three years of the war and occupation. The first claim described a significant drop in Iraqi civilian deaths; from the earliest days of the war, the Pentagon position was "we don’t do body counts."   No one asked Petraeus when did they change that policy?  The Washington Post and other media have also noted that current Pentagon figures are based on arbitrarily chosen criteria – including the exclusion of those killed in car bombs, and the distinction between those killed with a shot to the back of the head (designated as sectarian/terrorist killing) and those killed with a shot to the front of the head (excluded because designated as criminal).
 
The new BBC/ABC poll released this week shows a rising crisis in Iraqi lives, and a continuing rise in the number of Iraqis calling for an immediate withdrawal of occupation forces. 
·        47% want U.S./UK troops to leave immediately (last year it was 35%)
·        85% have little or no confidence in the U.S./UK forces
·        70% believe security has gotten worse in areas of "surge" troops
·        65% believe the Iraqi government’s ability to do its job is worse than before
·        70% believe conditions for political dialogue are worse
·        77% believe that their quality of life in general is bad or very bad

·       93% say electricity access is bad or very bad
·       80% say the job situation is bad or very bad
·       75% say access to clean water is bad or very bad
·       92% say fuel availability is bad or very bad

·    29% believe their lives will get better (64% thought so in 2005)

 

Perhaps the Halloween slogan should be "TRICKED AND MISTREATED" – Americans have been tricked, Iraqis mistreated…

 

 

 

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and author of Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the UN Defy U.S. Power.  To sign up to receive these talking points and other occasional posts directly, go to  www.ips-dc.org and click on the "Stay Connected" button — then select the New Internationalism Project (and any others you find interesting.)

 

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