Down the rabbit hole

Listening to the testimonies of General David H. Petraeus, senior commander in Iraq, and American Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, is unsettling in the extreme. Unsettling because the White House is once again creating and then perpetrating a Lewis Carroll fiction that feels all too familiar.

The story the President hopes to sell to the American people is reminiscent of Colin Powell appearing before the United Nations to make the case to that august body and the world that Iraq, riddled with WMD and biological weapons, posed a clear and present danger.

Now the President has sent a four star general to Congress to explain and defend another White House policy: the efficacy of the 30,000 troop surge. Granted, the surge has had some measurable results, if the numbers are parsed, and the count of dead Iraqis is tweaked to the point that violence is measured by whether people are shot in the front of the head or the back (this is not hyperbole).

The truth is that the success of the surge, however measured, is completely beside the point. And to claim otherwise points to a White House in full public relations mode. Recall the original rationale for the surge, as announced by President Bush last January: to give the Iraqi government "breathing room" so Sunni and Shiite representatives could effect reconciliation and establish a strong, unified central government. The surge, therefore, must be measured only in terms of the progress made by the Nuri al-Maliki government toward that end.

And the assessment of said progress rested entirely with Ambassador Crocker, despite the fact that the White House has, over the last several months, insisted that the testimony of General Patraeus would be key in fashioning Iraq policy from this point on. It's a classic shell game, a calculated distraction, and a double-down bet using the lives of our troops as chips while understanding full well that the solution to the Iraq quagmire is not to found on the field of battle but in the halls of Iraq's parliament.

The reality is that if the Iraqi people do not burn with the desire to create a country called Iraq, representing all of it's people, then we cannot create it for them, no matter how many troops we surge.

The President knows this. The two men testifying before Congress know this. When finally questioned, Ambassador Crocker, grudgingly admitted that the Maliki government is, using his word, "dysfunctional." Reconciliation is not occurring, no matter the amount of breathing space. The internecine carnage continues, and will not stop no matter the benchmarks or lines in the sand imposed by Congress or this administration.

On the first day of the general's testimony, seven of our soldiers were killed and 11 injured in the capital; a suicide bomb killed 10 and wounded countless others near Mosul; 10 bodies were found in Baghdad; three policemen were killed in Mosul; a car bomb outside a hospital in the capital killed two and wounded six. Meanwhile, Baghdad continues to be partitioned along sectarian lines with concrete blast walls and barbed wire separating entire neighborhoods. Two million have already fled and another two million have been dispossessed, while others thrive on the chaos.

One Congressman, growing desperate for comparisons, likened the situation in Iraq to domestic violence. An interesting analogue, and perhaps on point. The couple fight, doing a lot of damage to themselves and their children. When the police arrive, they stop, and as long as the police remain, there's a semblance of peace. The minute they leave, all the grudges and grievances come into play and the violence begins again. The only way to stop these bitter and angry people, who have more baggage than a hotel lobby, is for the police to remain. Move in. Or withdraw and leave them to fight until only one is left standing. To take this one step further, whenever the police walk out the door, take a tour through the neighborhood, relatives and neighbors, who have taken sides, are shooting at one another and at the occupiers, now caught in the middle. They call for reinforcements. Call it a surge. And the cycle continues. At the heart of the violence and discord is the fact that the couple and their supporters would rather fight then find common ground.

What we have seen last week, to include the President's prime-time speech to the nation, is sheer fabrication requiring a studied suspension of disbelief. Put lipstick on this pig, throw it off the barn roof, and it will fly, we're told, first by a distinguished general and then by the Commander in Chief himself. All while claiming that there will be a drawdown of troops, which means simply back to the pre-surge level of 130,000 &

a reduction that was planned well in advance of the Patraeus testimony. The footprint will remain the same.

It's pure theater, manipulative and disingenuous.

The question is, Why? Why perpetuate this awful war another month, another year, or until the inauguration in January 2009? Why not tell the truth? We can't solve this intractable situation Bush has created with "the mother of all surges," "stay the course," "when they stand up, we stand down," or with ever greater sacrifices by our brave young men and women. That's the truth that will not be told by this President, for reasons that remain disturbingly elusive, even when wrapped in the facile and shallow rhetoric of bringing "democracy" and "freedom" to the Middle East. Haven't we learned by now that our form of government cannot be superimposed on a people unless they embrace it themselves?

One final comment: General Petraeus was asked by John Warner (R-Va.) whether this war has made America any safer? It was a deceptively simple question but profoundly important (isn't that the anchor rationale of the President?). The General, at first, attempted to avoid the question. But when pressed by Warner, he said, hesitantly, that he didn't know. He hadn't thought about it. Then who has?

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