Sunday, September 9, 2007

Petraeus and Partisanship

Matt Drudge is reporting that after delivering his report to Congress tomorrow, General Petraeus (along with Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq) will give an exclusive live interview to Fox News at 9 pm.

One of the charges that has already been made against Petraeus is that he's a politicized general, a salesman for the administration's Iraq policy. As Lawrence Korb writes in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, "Petraeus continues to be used by the administration--willingly or unwillingly--for partisan political purposes. When many Democrats and some Republicans criticize the president's latest strategy in Iraq, Bush and his political allies argue that the strategy is not theirs but that of General Petraeus--and that by confirming him, the Senate essentially endorsed the current approach, obligating it to give 'Petraeus' strategy' a chance to succeed."

Given that criticism, is it really wise to send Petraeus onto the cable news network that is widely perceived as sympathetic to the administration? It's as if the administration is already conceding that the Petraeus report is only going to be believed by the hard core of Republican supporters of the war. If that's the case, the point of this public relations exercise seems to be to rally the base, rather than build broad support for the surge or (least of all) get an accurate, factual assessment of what's happening on the ground. Polls show the general public certainly doesn't put much credence in the report.

For more on Petraeus, see Andrew Bacevich's recent piece in the New Republic. As for his report, the Washington Post and other outlets have cited the GAO's skepticism about its accounting methods. The report--which has been written by the White House, not Petraeus's own staff--is a whitewash from start to finish. What's mildly surprising, though, is the very modest ambitions the White House seems to have for this effort: to string along the base for a few months more, without giving anyone else even pause for thought. Even the p.r. war is lost, yet the ground war won't end until either the White House faces reality or Congress decides to pull the plug--yet there's no political will for either of those actions. Both parties want to evade the responsibility for "losing" the war, but each knows that there is no prospect of "winning" it, either. So the quagmire continues...

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