I woke up this morning feeling like a kid at Christmas. This is, after all, the day that General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker bring their much anticipated Surge Strategy Medicine Show to Capital Hill. Last week brought the kinds of sideshow acts we've come to expect just prior to a big Iraq event and then some: Mr. Bush making a no-notice visit to Iraq for a photo opportunity in front of a group of hand-selected adoring troops, a foiled terrorist attempt, a new taped announcement from Osama bin Laden and--for the first time in the history of armed conflict--Katy Couric making moo-eyes at General David Petraeus.
The Really Big Show
During Dubya-Week minus one, senior administration and military officials said that Petraeus "could accept the pullback of 4,000 troops beginning in January, in part to assuage critics in Congress." That was mighty big of Petraeus to "accept" any kind of pressure or guidance or suggestion from Congress. He has become, after all, a Douglas McArthur class American Caesar. Mr. Bush has made it clear that Petraeus is his "main man," and that the future deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq will "depend upon the recommendations of David Petraeus."
And maybe that's what America wants, a new Caesar to dictate foreign policy. Who cares that nothing in the Constitution gives any four-star general the authority to do that sort of thing?
According to the results of a New York Times/CBS News Poll released Sunday night, "Americans trust military commanders far more than the Bush administration or Congress to bring the war in Iraq to a successful end." Conversely, a Washington Post-ABC News Poll, the results of which were also released last night, reports that Americans expect General David Petraeus to "exaggerate progress in Iraq," which pretty much says they don't trust Petraeus either.
It could well be that both polls are correct. After all, we've become accustomed to the idea that the least of available evils is the best we can hope to get from our government. We know we can't trust Congress to take charge of the war, and we can't trust Bush to tell the truth, so if David Petraeus tells a stretcher or two here and there, what's the big deal? Hell, if he didn't have a touch of the bull feather merchant in him, he wouldn't have made four-start in our modern military, would he?
The Whole Partial Truth
We might, however, want to keep an eye on just how thin he's willing to stretch the fabric. An Associated Press article from last week informed us that "U.S. troop levels--currently at a record 168,000--are expected to hit a high of 172,000 in the coming weeks, the Pentagon said Thursday." So the 4,000 troops going home in January--roughly a battalion's worth--will already have been relieved in theater by an equal number of troops. That's not exactly a "pullback," is it? Maybe what General Petraeus meant was that he wanted to pull our legs about drawing down troop levels, because that's sure what it looks like he's doing.
General Petraeus has also mentioned the possibility of further troop reductions by spring of 2008. On Sunday, officials said that Petraeus has recommended that the issue of reducing the main body of American troops be delayed by another Standard Friedman Unit (STFU, or six months). That would take us to the beginning of April 2008, which was how long the "surge" was projected to be sustainable since it began back in January of 2007. From there, Mr. Bush only needs one more STFU to reach his goal--we know from Robert Draper's new book Dead Certain that Bush is "playing for October-November," meaning he wants to maintain a robust military presence in Iraq until he can wipe his woebegone war off on the sleeve of his successor.
And from all appearances, Petraeus is bound and determined to make sure his boss gets his way. Well, his top boss, anyway. Petraeus's immediate boss may not be quite so willing to play ball with the administration's neocon cabal.
Admiral William Fallon, head of Central Command and Petraeus's direct superior in the military chain of command, is tired of watching America break all of its military eggs in the Iraq skillet. He wants to have more forces available to confront other potential threats in his area of responsibility (which includes, among other hot spots, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia), and has developed plans to redefine the U.S. mission in the Middle East and draw down troops in Iraq.
Fallon and Petraeus don't seem to be the best of buddies these days. "Bad relations?" says one senior civilian official of the relationship between the two men. "That's the understatement of the century."
Petraeus may be a standard Bush liegeman, but one certainly can't say the same for Fallon. According to Garth Porter of Interpress News Service, Fallon is one of a group of very senior military officers determined to "put the crazies back in the box." He shut off a proposed naval buildup in the Persian Gulf proposed earlier this year, and has said that an attack on Iran "will not happen on my watch."
Maybe Fallon can inject some degree of sanity into our Iraq policy and strategy: But he's not Mr. Bush's "main man," and he's not testifying before Congress this week.
Well, it's almost H-Hour. High noon Eastern Daylight Savings Time approaches, and Petraeus and Crocker must be skulking into the corral right about now. Kick-off is in about 30 minutes, just enough time to run to the corner 7-Eleven for chips and soda.
(To be continued…)
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Military.com. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.