Posted by: Shaun | April 10, 2008

Making it up as we go along

This week media attention has been fixated on a suitably dramatic pseudo-event that could have been lifted right out of Daniel Boorstin’s The Image. I speak, of course, about the testimony delivered by General David Patreus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker about the Iraq War before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The hearings had all the hallmarks of a Congressional media event; administration spokesmen trying to defend the cause, dueling Senatorial personalities trying to win points for their political campaigns, and incessant television coverage.

In reading the newspaper reporting on the hearings, I was struck by a couple of graphs in the New York Times today:

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the administration had abandoned the benchmarks as a strict standard of progress because establishing a secure Iraq would also depend on factors other than political and military progress.

Over two days of testimony, General Petraeus repeatedly was asked to explain the conditions that would allow further withdrawals, but he answered that they were not based on some easily defined measurements.

Asked for elaboration, the senior administration official said, “It’s a very hard concept to explain publicly because it doesn’t feature a sort of setting of the dial. It features what we call a running assessment.”

First, we decided that the war was not militarily winnable and we could only succeed by fostering progress on the political front within Iraq, which is where the 18 benchmarks came from. Now, it seems the benchmarks are out. So military progress isn’t enough and political progress isn’t enough and our assessment of whether we’re winning isn’t based on any established metrics. Are they serious? How is the United States supposed to interpret the impact it’s having in Iraq if not by concrete political and security standards? Should we just let the Iraqi’s text in votes for which side they think is winning?

Then, of course, there is the strange contradiction between General Patreus’ recommendation to place a hold on draw downs of American troops from Iraq and President Bush’s expected decision to return to regular 12 month tours of duty. Does anyone else see a problem with this? Granted, our servicemen and women have gone truly above and beyond the call of duty in Iraq and deserve to be treated fairly. But where does the President expect to get the troops to carry out the mission?

I think Dr. Andrew Bacevich put it best in his own remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday: “The choice is one that we can no longer afford to dodge: it’s either less war or more warriors.” And I don’t see anyone out there pitching a new draft…

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