General David Petraeus, Bush’s latest appointee for chief of American forces in Iraq, is trying to avoid setting any concrete failure standards for the surge. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he failed to answer any question about goals, timetables, or deadlines, and said nothing apart from the usual spiel about victory.
In his opening statement, Petraeus, 54, painted a grim picture of conditions in Iraq.
“The situation in Iraq is dire. The stakes are high. There are no easy choices. The way ahead will be very hard. … But hard is not hopeless,” he said.
In theory, it’s true: hard is not hopeless. In practice, the US has already lost in Iraq. It’s failed to contain the insurgency, and under its watch a large mass of Shi’as switched loyalties from pro-American Sistani to anti-American Sadr. Its original stated aim – to usher in a pro-American, democratic Iraq – is a pipedream. Bush made pro-Americanism an almost fringe view, and as early as 2003, it was obvious the alternative regime in Iraq was going to be an Iran-style theocracy rather than a liberal democracy.
Stentor once wrote about studies of irrationality. Firms that had spent three million dollars out of five on a project that then turned out to be worth only one million would always finish the project instead of cut their losses and save a million dollars. Bush’s inability to admit failure is just another example of this in action: he’d rather spend a hundred billion dollars and get two hundred thousand more Iraqis killed in the hope of achieving something that won’t even recover these costs.
Asked by McCain how soon he thought he would know whether the new strategy was working, Petraeus said, “We would have indicators at the least during the late summer.” As currently planned, he said, the last of the five additional U.S. Army brigades would be ready to fight in Baghdad by the end of May.
A good rule of thumb about Iraq is that anyone who’s hyperopic enough to institute seven-month plans has no idea what he’s doing.
Thomas Friedman has gotten away too much with saying “The next six months are crucial”; Petraeus isn’t an op-ed writer for the newspaper every political activist in the US loves to hate, but a General who’s by and large above criticism. When the additional troops fail to deliver the goods by late summer, he’ll just shift the goalposts to winter ’08, and Bush will call everyone who objects a defeatist.