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Pity General Petraeus for Having Bush as Commander

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Five years ago today US Marines threw a chain around a statue of Saddam Hussein and toppled it from its concrete perch. Unfortunately, the promised “Shock and Awe” short war that would cost less than $200 million is now more than five years and running, with a cost in the trillions, plus tens of thousands of dead and wounded, including more than 4,000 dead US soldiers. It is now the American people who are shocked and awed at the cost of Bush’s dunderheaded military adventure.

The US media has been pitiful in its coverage of the war from the start. I was in Spain when Saddam’s statue was toppled and watched the event on European television. Their footage showed a marine draping an American flag over the fallen statue’s head and the Iraqi crowd angrily protesting until the US flag was replaced with an Iraqi flag—our media omitted that. It was a prelude of things to come.

When Democrats took control of the House and Senate in November 2006, President Bush knew he had to make some kind of change in his Iraq policy, since anti-war sentiment is largely what propelled Dems to victory. He quickly dumped Donald Rumsfeld, something he should have done years earlier. But by January 2007 instead of responding to calls to get out of Iraq Bush announced the “surge” as a means of still winning the unwinnable. After a year of surging, things have not changed much in Iraq. Today, for example, at least 13 people were killed in mortar attacks in Sadr City, which has been under a curfew for the past 15 days. Now General David Petraeus is struggling to explain the situation in Iraq to members of Congress this week.

“A year ago, the president said we couldn’t withdraw because there was too much violence,” said an exasperated Sen. Edward Kennedy (D. Mass) yesterday. “Now he says we can’t afford to withdraw because violence is down.” Even Republicans are weary of a war begun with no exit strategy and one that five years later still has no exit strategy.

Gen. Petraeus told senators that conditions were not right yet to begin withdrawal. But asked repeatedly what conditions he was looking for, all Petraeus could say was that he would know them when he sees them. Sen. Obama ticked off a list of obvious conditions one might look for, and then concluded that we would never see those things.

Sen. McCain, of course, was all aglow that the surge had worked and proved he had been right all along that we needed more troops to win. In my opinion, this myth about the surge is the most dangerous and hokey politicking operating right now. Far too little attention is given to other factors that have resulted in a reduction in violence in Iraq. The two largest contributors are that the US put 90,000 former Sunni insurgents on the payroll and that a year ago Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his militia to cease attacks. But for the past couple of weeks his Mahdi army and other Shiite militias have taken up arms again, and violence is once again on the rise. Another factor in the reduction of violence is that many neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed. Is this good? How can this lead to a stable, unified Iraq?

As has been pointed out many times, this war is already longer than WWII and it’s taking its toll. Nearly half of West Point classes are deciding against an army career. US military equipment is wearing out at nine times the normal rate and can’t be replaced fast enough. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said there is a shortfall of 10,000 company-grade officers. This means we will continue to plunder reserve units and national guards and force soldiers into two and three tours of duty. There are some soldiers who have been home less than 12 months out of four years; their children are growing up without them.

Bush’s surge was supposed to accompany a miraculous effort by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government; we should have known that was a joke when the entire Iraqi legislature took a month-long vacation while US soldiers laid down their lives on the streets of Baghdad. Iraqis are not Americans. Their approach to life is quite different than ours and their objectives are not necessarily the same. I watched footage a couple days ago on Al Jazeera of an operation in Basra where US troops were trying to get Iraqi troops to go in and root out some shooters. “I don’t have enough men,” said the Iraqi captain. “What? You’ve got more men here than I do,” said a young lieutenant. “What are you talking about? Just go in and we’ll follow you and back you up, but you’ve got to take the lead. We’re not allowed to take the lead any longer.” “Well, okay,” said the captain reluctantly and walked off. About 15 minutes later the US officer who was waiting anxiously with his platoon asked his interpreter where the Iraqi troops were? “Oh, they went to lunch.”