I hate to say I told you so, but…
In March 2007, Gordon Cucullu of the conservative New York Post wrote a piece titled "The Iraq Surge: Why It's Working." Cucullu quoted U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus as saying that the results the Baghdad security operation have been "dramatic."
Cucullu declared that "Early signs are positive; early indicators say that we're winning," and that we needed to give Petraeus "the time and space to win this war."
Jump ahead to June 7, 2007. At his Senate confirmation hearing, new War Czar Lieutenant General Douglas Lute said that Iraqi factions "have shown so far very little progress" toward reconciliation. Unless that changes, he said, "…we're not likely to see much difference in the security situation" a year from now.
Senator Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) quoted a CIA expert on radical Islam as having said, "Our presence in Iraq is creating more members of al-Qaeda than we are killing in Iraq."
A Bad Surprise
Lute's assessment agrees with the views of officials who told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a closed session last month that trends remain negative for a political solution in Iraq.
According to Peter Baker and Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post, a senior Iraqi recently said, "People may look for benchmarks, achievements, legislation here and there to look for progress. This will not reflect the reality. This country is in deep, grave trouble. . . If anyone expects problems to be fixed by September 2007 or 2008, they will be in for a bad surprise."
No one expects General Petraeus to bring a pocketful of good news with him when he reports to Congress on the surge progress in September. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates now says American troops will be in Iraq for a "protracted period of time."
Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East expert with the Congressional Research Service says officials are "preparing the political landscape for a report that is not glowing ... and that not all U.S. troops would be leaving."
Mr. Bush and Secretary Gates are starting to describe a scenario in which U.S. units will pull back to permanent bases in Iraq where they can provide indefinite logistical support to Iraqi units. The trouble with that scenario is that nobody, including Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, really trusts the Iraqi Army or police to provide security.
Pace Takes a Hike
In a Friday afternoon dump/punt, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that President Bush will not nominate General Peter Pace to another two-year term as chairman of he Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gates said that after consultations with Democratic and Republican Senators, he concluded that "…because General Pace has served as chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the last six years, the focus of his confirmation process would have been on the past, rather than the future, and further, that there was the very real prospect the process would be quite contentious."
Nobody in the Department of Defense wants to be grilled on what happened over the last six years, and boy, if anybody knows where all the bodies are buried, Pace does. Gates says he will nominate Admiral Mike Mullen, presently the Chief of Naval Operations, to replace Pace as chairman. Mullen didn't come onboard the Joint Chiefs until August of 2003 when he became the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, so he has credible deniability regarding the run-up to the Iraq war, and as a naval officer he has little to no culpability for the long string of mistakes made on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also kept a fairly low profile regarding Middle East policies and strategies, so he doesn't have a public stance, pro or con, on any future decisions the administration might make.
So the game of musical deck chairs continues, as does the search for a coherent strategy in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. According to David S. Cloud of the New York Times, Mullen seems willing to give the "surge" a chance to succeed until at least September. In a recent interview, Mullen said, “It is a matter of months that this surge is designed to apply. If there isn’t political progress, if there isn’t economic progress, the military isn’t going to make this work.”
What's missing from Mullen's statement is that without political and military progress, the military isn't going to make things work regardless of what military strategy it employs.
Alternate strategies we've heard of being kicked around Washington over the past week look and sound much like the Pentagon's "Go Long," scheme, the Iraq Study Groups 79 recommendations, and Jack Murtha's proposal for redeployment to the periphery, a strategy Murtha first proposed in November 2005.
Though nearly all the key civilian and military featured players have been recast over the last several months, one face remains familiar on the Bush policy team: Vice President Dick Cheney. I don't buy any of the talk that Cheney's influence has waned. Every time he seems to have retired behind an undisclosed curtain, he pops up again to rally the base around the "stay the course" flag, and we can expect him to continue that pattern through the end of Mr. Bush's term.
So no matter how many new faces appear on the scene and how many proposals get kicked around, I fully expect the administration's strategy will be to do whatever it takes to maintain a sizeable presence in Iraq until the 2008 election, and do its utmost to place a Republican in the White House who's committed to finishing the job.
Whatever "finishing the job" means.