Friday, September 21, 2007

The tyranny of Petraeus

Here is part of the general's prepared remarks to the House committees:

The progress our forces have achieved with our Iraqi counterparts has, as I noted at the outset, been substantial. While there have been setbacks as well as successes and tough losses along the way, overall, our tactical commanders and I see improvements in the security environment. We do not, however, just rely on gut feeling or personal observations; we also conduct considerable data collection and analysis to gauge progress and determine trends. We do this by gathering and refining data from coalition and Iraqi operations centers, using a methodology that has been in place for well over a year and that has benefited over the past seven months from the increased presence of our forces living among the Iraqi people. We endeavor to ensure our analysis of that data is conducted with rigor and consistency, as our ability to achieve a nuanced understanding of the security environment is dependent on collecting and analyzing data in a consistent way over time. Two US intelligence agencies recently reviewed our methodology, and they concluded that the data we produce is the most accurate and authoritative in Iraq.

Here was part of his recommendations:

Two weeks ago I provided recommendations for the way ahead in Iraq to the members of my chain of command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The essence of the approach I recommended is captured in its title: "Security While Transitioning: From Leading to Partnering to Overwatch." This approach seeks to build on the security improvements our troopers and our Iraqi counterparts have fought so hard to achieve in recent months. It reflects recognition of the importance of securing the population and the imperative of transitioning responsibilities to Iraqi institutions and Iraqi forces as quickly as possible, but without rushing to failure. It includes substantial support for the continuing development of Iraqi Security Forces. It also stresses the need to continue the counterinsurgency strategy that we have been employing, but with Iraqis gradually shouldering more of the load. And it highlights the importance of regional and global diplomatic approaches. Finally, in recognition of the fact that this war is not only being fought on the ground in Iraq but also in cyberspace, it also notes the need to contest the enemy's growing use of that important medium to spread extremism. The recommendations I provided were informed by operational and strategic considerations. The operational considerations include recognition that:

_Military aspects of the surge have achieved progress and generated momentum.

_Iraqi Security Forces have continued to grow and have slowly been shouldering more of the security burden in Iraq.

_A mission focus on either population security or transition alone will not be adequate to achieve our objectives.

_Success against al-Qaida-Iraq and Iranian-supported militia extremists requires conventional forces as well as special operations forces; and

_The security and local political situations will enable us to draw down the surge forces.

My recommendations also took into account a number of strategic considerations:

_Political progress will take place only if sufficient security exists.

_Long-term US ground force viability will benefit from force reductions as the surge runs its course.

_Regional, global, and cyberspace initiatives are critical to success; and

_Iraqi leaders understandably want to assume greater sovereignty in their country, although, as they recently announced, they do desire continued presence of coalition forces in Iraq in 2008 under a new UN Security Council Resolution and, following that, they want to negotiate a long term security agreement with the United States and other nations.

Based on these considerations, and having worked the battlefield geometry with Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno to ensure that we retain and build on the gains for which our troopers have fought, I have recommended a drawdown of the surge forces from Iraq. In fact, later this month, the Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed as part of the surge will depart Iraq. Beyond that, if my recommendations are approved, that unit's departure will be followed by the withdrawal of a brigade combat team without replacement in mid-December and the further redeployment without replacement of four other brigade combat teams and the two surge Marine battalions in the first seven months of 2008, until we reach the pre-surge level of 15 brigade combat teams by mid-July 2008.

Did you follow that, boys and girls? What did the general say?

Um, we're not sure, Spotty.

That's all right grasshopper, neither is Spot. And neither were the committee members. Which is how the testimony was designed. What the general did was perform an "expert job" on the Congress. Consider this from Spot's current guru, John Ralston Saul (again writing in Voltaire's Bastards):

Their [the experts'] standard procedure when faced by outside questioning is to avoid answering and instead to discourage, even to frighten off the questioner, by implying that he is uninformed, inaccurate, superficial and, invariably, overexcited. If the questioner has some hierarchical power, the expert may feel obliged to answer with greater care. For example, he may release a minimum amount of information in heavy dialect and accompany it with apologies for the complexity, thus suggesting that the questioner is not competent to understand anything more. And if the questioner must be answered but need not be respected — a journalist, for example, or a politician — the expert may release a flood of incomprehensible data, thus drowning out debate while pretending to be cooperative. And even if someone does manage to penetrate the confusion of material, he will be obliged to argue against the expert in a context of such complexity that the public, to whom he is supposed to be communicating understanding, will quickly lose interest. In other words, by drawing the persistent outsider into his box, the expert will have rendered him powerless.

This is exactly what Petraeus did. If you examine the quoted portions of his prepared testimony, or peruse the entire thing at the link above, it makes you want to get the general a green eye shade to go with his green uniform. Petraeus' remarks were an exercise in obfuscation, laced with jargon, the words of a bureaucrat, not a general responsible for a theater of war.

Keith Olbermann thought so, too. Borrowing the quote from a post at Three Way News:

But a shot at General Petraeus — about whom you conveniently ignore it is you who reduced him from four-star hero to a political hack — that merits this pissy juvenile blast at the Democrats on national television?

Your hypocrisy is so vast, sir, that if we could somehow use it to fill the ranks in Iraq you could realize your dream — and keep us fighting there until the year 3000.

The line between the military and the civilian government is not to be crossed.

We can think of other military leaders, both civilians in the Pentagon and generals who have endeavored to mislead with their jargon and "metrics": Robert McNamara, William Westmoreland, and Donald Rumsfeld. McNamara once famously said that if it couldn't be measured, it didn't matter, and used body counts to obscure the truth of the war in Vietnam.

Questioning General Petraeus is certainly not out of bounds, and there are people, including George Lakoff, who make a case that we have been betrayed, as suggested by the ad:

Bush took advantage of certain conventions of etiquette and politeness when he sent Petraeus to testify before Congress. Those conventions hold that one does not criticize the symbolic stand-in for the military, even when the uniform-wearing stand-in is on an overt political mission that is at the heart of the Administration's continuing betrayal of trust. Decorum can be put to political use, and Bush did just that.

Which brings Spot to the truly cowardly vote of Amy Klobuchar in favor of the Senate resolution to condemn for the ad. With her votes on the recent Iraq supplemental funding, her vote on the FISA legislation, and now this, Amy Klobuchar is proving a great disappointment to many Democrats in Minnesota. By voting for this resolution, Klobuchar simply assisted the administration is taking the public's attention away from the true debate.

[update] At Salon, Joan Walsh called the vote a "profile in cowardice" by the Democrats who voted for it. [/update]

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