On Sept. 10 and 11, 2007, David Petraeus – to some, Christ – four-star general and savior of all things Iraq, testified before the United States Congress regarding progress in Iraq propelled by a recent “surge” of just over 20,000 additional U.S. soldiers into the battle zone. His testimony resembled former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s WMD speech before the United Nations and George Bush’s oft-mocked gimmicky landing on an aircraft carrier to declare that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” Petraeus’ testimony, coupled with dubious White House research detailing a decline of sectarian violence in Iraq, was little more than another PR stunt in a long line of disastrous foreign policy decisions thinly veiled by the mask of ostentatious political theater.
None of this is to question General Petraeus’ sincerity. Like Powell before him, I’m sure Petraeus believes the propaganda he has been asked to peddle. Likewise, one would be hard pressed to find fault with the general’s strategic vision or competence. But tragically, even a great commander cannot save a failed war.
Such is most certainly the reason why the statistics presented during Petraeus’ assessment were shoddy at best. By only calculating sectarian murders, Shiite-on-Shiite violence and Sunni-on-Sunni attacks were ignored. The body counts from car bombings were likewise left out, and while Iraqis who were shot in the back of the head were included as casualties of sectarian slaughter, Iraqis who were shot in the front of the head were counted merely victims of crime. In related news, when looking at Iraq with open eyes, the country is engulfed in chaos. When looking at it with closed eyes, however, the nation is in a state of utter tranquility. Ear plugs also help to muffle the horrifying sounds of bombings, beheadings and deadly gun battles.
One of the most revealing moments of the general’s testimony occurred when he was asked during the Senate hearing whether or not he believed the ongoing operation in Iraq was making America safer. In a refreshing spurt of war-related honesty, Petraeus replied that he did not know, but added, “I have tried to focus on doing what I think a commander is supposed to do, which is to determine the best recommendations to achieve the objectives of the policy from which his mission is derived.” Or, in other words, the mission may be impossible, the objectives may be misguided, but David Petraeus will do his damnedest anyway!
Two days after the congressional testimony ended, President Bush gave one of his rare addresses to the American people, in which he spoke about the need for “long-term strategic relations with Iraq” – code words for: “We are going to be in this war forever.” In a better world, members of both political parties would criticize such talk outright. This is the same administration that has told us that we’ve reached the turning point of success again and again. While the increased escalation of troops was meant to provide the foundation for fostering political progress in Iraq, no political reconciliation has occurred and religious tensions remain enflamed. Nearly 4,000 American lives have been lost in a futile attempt to bring peace to a country that wants us gone and well over 50 percent of polled Iraqis have stated that they believe it acceptable to kill American troops in their country. Such conditions make a successful military occupation unfeasible. Consequently, the time for withdrawal is now.
While some proponents of redeployment from Iraq have indicated that an American evacuation may be just what is needed to bring reconciliation to Iraq’s warring sects and reduce bloodshed in that country, such speculation is probably overly optimistic. A U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is not a good idea; it is, however, the least bad one. Leaving Iraq will not guarantee political success, and it certainly will not ensure peace. What it will make certain is that no more American soldiers must sacrifice their lives for a hopeless occupation and that no more radicals can be recruited to fight the “American infidels occupying the Holy Land.” The consequences of our reckless misadventure in Iraq will live long after the architects of the invasion have deceased. Time cannot be turned back, but we can at least allow the men and women who have been tasked with paying for our mistake to come home. Doing otherwise is asking for more Americans to die for the fantasy of a success. But then again, maybe if we pray hard enough, General Petraeus will answer our prayers.