Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who took over as the top U.S. commander in Iraq in February, cited the disparity last week. "The Washington clock is moving more rapidly than the Baghdad clock," he said in a television interview. "So we're obviously trying to speed up the Baghdad clock a bit and to produce some progress on the ground that can, perhaps . . . put a little more time on the Washington clock."The House and the Senate have both set the alarm for sometime next year but George W. Bush has made it clear once again that he can't tell time. My local right leaning newspaper, the Oregonian, reminds us today that there is a third clock that makes the other two irrelevant.
Time is one thing we don't have
The U.S. campaign in Iraq is on the clock, for more reasons than one
n a fine analysis of the difference between thinking Inside the Beltway and Outside the Green Zone, Army Gen. David Petraeus told reporters, "The Washington clock is moving more rapidly than the Baghdad clock. So we're obviously trying to speed up the Baghdad clock a bit and to produce a bit more progress on the ground that can, perhaps, put a little more time on the Washington clock."So while the Senate has placed a March, 2008 date on troop withdrawal and the President won't accept a timetable the clock is ticking on our very broken military.
The general is absolutely right that, when it comes to the U.S. role in Iraq, two different timetables are in play: the one that reflects the tension between the executive branch and a hostile Congress, and the one that mirrors progress in bringing security to war-ravaged Iraq.
The Washington Post's analysis, published Monday in The Oregonian, cites the differing perspectives as a key reason that opinions about the success of the president's troop "surge" can vary so wildly, leading to such goofy episodes as Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., saying the Shorja market area in Baghdad is "like a normal outdoor market in Indiana."
Yet there's more to the debate than the contrast between the soldier's view and the politician's calculus. There's also the problem of how long the Baghdad clock can keep running before its mechanism wears out. Already, the Pentagon has compressed intervals between deployments, lowered recruiting standards, raised age limits and shorn the National Guard of much of its equipment. This means that more inexperienced troops are reaching the field with less training and less usable equipment than before.
On Monday, the Pentagon said it would relieve some of its troops in Iraq by sending in 13,000 National Guard soldiers, mostly from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Ohio and -- appropriately, perhaps -- Indiana. Many of them have been to Iraq before, which means that their family and professional lives have already been disrupted at least once. Successive deployments increase strains on families, employers and communities, while increasing the risk of physical and psychological trauma. They also thin the number of people and equipment available to respond to domestic emergencies, such as floods, fires and search-and-rescue missions.
"The active Army is about broken," asserted Colin Powell, the former secretary of state and retired top general, in December. While high-ranking active-duty officers may disagree, they continue to lean heavily on reservists and the National Guard, and even the Navy and Air Force, which have supplied support staff to the Army in Iraq.
The clock is running out on the all-volunteer military's ability to carry out the president's foreign policy. Without significant changes -- more money for equipment, a sharp drawdown in deployed troops, or the institution of a draft -- the current schedule for deployments is unsustainable, no matter what time it is in Washington or Baghdad.