Before Gen. David Petraeus' report, and to give it a context of optimism, the president visited Iraq's Anbar province to underscore the success of the surge in making some hitherto anarchic areas less so. More significant, however, was the fact that the president did not visit Baghdad. This underscored the fact that the surge has failed, as measured by the president's and Petraeus' standards of success.Of course as we all know by now the purpose of the Petraeus PR blitz was to postpone the inevitable until Bush leaves office.
Those who today stridently insist that the surge has succeeded also say they are especially supportive of the president, Petraeus and the military generally. But at the beginning of the surge, both Petraeus and the president defined success in a way that took the achievement of success out of America's hands.
The purpose of the surge, they said, is to buy time -- "breathing space," the president says -- for Iraqi political reconciliation. Because progress toward that has been negligible, there is no satisfactory answer to this question: What is the U.S. military mission in Iraq?
Many of those who insist that the surge is a harbinger of U.S. victory in Iraq are making the same mistake they made in 1991 when they urged an advance on Baghdad, and in 2003 when they underestimated the challenge of building democracy there. The mistake is exaggerating the relevance of U.S. military power to achieve political progress in a society riven by ethnic and sectarian hatreds. America's military leaders, who are professional realists, do not make this mistake.
WASHINGTON -- -- The talk in Washington on Monday was all about troop reductions, yet it also brought into sharp focus President Bush's plans to end his term with a strong U.S. military presence in Iraq, and to leave tough decisions about ending the unpopular war to his successor.Of course leaving a mess for someone else to clean up is the story of George W. Bush's life. I hope that General Pretaeus doesn't realize the part he is playing here. If he does the MoveOn ad was way to kind.
The plans outlined by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, would retain a large force in the country -- perhaps more than 100,000 troops -- when the time comes for Bush to move out of the White House in January 2009.
The plans also would allow Bush to live up to his pledge to the defining mission of his presidency, and perhaps to improve his chances for a decent legacy. He can say he left office pursuing a strategy that was having at least some success in suppressing violence, a claim that some historians may view sympathetically.
"Bush has found his exit strategy," said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former government Mideast specialist now at the Brookings Institution. As Petraeus met with lawmakers and unveiled chart upon chart showing declining troop levels, the U.S. commander seemed to have opened a new discussion about how the United States would wind up its commitment to Iraq. Yet viewed more closely, his presentation, and that of U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, were better suited to the defense of an earlier strategy: "stay the course."