Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher recalls a time when General David Petraeus was still capable of honesty. Referring to a New York Times Op-Ed by Boston University professor of history and international relations Andrew J. Bacevich, Mitchell writes:
What will end up being the most famous quote of the Iraq war? Remember, President Bush did not actually say “Mission Accomplished.” Perhaps Vice President Cheney’s “final throes” will take the prize. But increasingly, as the significance of Gen. David Petraeus grows (seemingly by the minute), it seems possible that it might up being his once-obscure 2003 remark to a well-known newspaper reporter: “Tell me how this ends.”
The quote was cited by Bacevich, who wrote:
The United States today finds itself with too much war for too few warriors. With the “surge” now giving way to a “pause,” the Iraq war has become an open-ended enterprise. American combat operations in Iraq could easily drag on for 10 more years, and a large-scale military presence might be required for decades, which may well break the Army while bankrupting the country. The pretense that there is a near-term solution to Iraq has become a pretext for ignoring the long-term disparity between military commitments and military capacity.
Bacevich wants an answer to Petraeus’s question. And no one else seems to be even asking it. Bacevich would also like Petraeus to explain approximately when the war ends, and how long our exhausted troops can continue to meet the demands being made of them, and how their strain will be alleviated.
But back to that old Petraeus quote, Mitchell writes:
Petraeus said that line when he was a Major General directing the 101st Airborne during the U.S. invasion but, for some, his testimony today before Congress suggested that he still did not have an answer to it.
Who did he say the five words to? The lucky recipient was Rick Atkinson, the Pulitzer Prize- winning reporter for The Washington Post and military historian. It shows up in in Atkinson’s book about the attack on Iraq, “In the Company of Soldiers.” which featured Maj. Gen. Petraeus as a key character.
In 2004, Atkinson praised the military performance of Petraeus and the troops, but believed they were better than the cause they served. As Atkinson explained:
“They took down a country the size of California in three weeks,” he pointed out, “but there was not much thought devoted to the question of what happens next. It’s astonishing how little thought was given.”
Of course, there’s still too little thought being given to what comes next. That’s the point.
McClatchy reports that even as Petraeus was asking for more time to destroy Iraq, the violence in Baghdad is again on the verge of erupting. Which is no surprise. So, tell me how this ends. Bush is trying to make it impossible for his successor to end the war. John McCain has no intention of ending the war, doesn’t think we need to end the war, belittles the idea of ending the war as irresponsible, and seems to have no problem with the idea of continuing to occupy Iraq forever. As previously noted, the army is worried about the rising stress of soldiers sent on return tours, but the corporate media would rather pretend the war doesn’t exist, and are working hard to ignore it.
Senate Democrats seem frustrated that there’s no sign of an end to the war, but Congress has done little to nothing to expedite one. And even Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton offer only partial plans, while the much-touted Democratic Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq (pdf) retains the boondoggle (pdf) of an embassy, despite Bush’s now blocking inquiries into its staggering cost overruns, and specifically mentions retaining enough troops to protect it. John Edwards estimated that would require a brigade of some 3500 to 5000 personnel. I’ve seen no estimates that it would require less. And I’ve yet to hear a rationale from anyone as to why our Iraq embassy need be, as the previously linked articles show it will be, the largest in the world, at a currently estimated cost of over $1,200,000,000 per year. It seems to me that an honest withdrawal would mean leaving only a typical embassy with a typical embassy staff and a typical contingent of embassy guards. If maintaining an embassy in Iraq necessitates anything more, then we and Iraq are not ready for us to maintain an embassy there. To pretend otherwise is nothing less than to rationalize a continuation of the occupation.
So, tell me how this ends. As Gerard Baker of the conservative Times of London explains:
Republicans seem to suggest that the war is going so well that the US should simply stay indefinitely. But senior strategists close to Mr McCain acknowledge what many in the Pentagon are saying with increasing alarm – that the strains the war is placing on US military capabilities are so great that some significant reduction in the American role is essential some time soon.
At the same time, Democratic foreign policy advisers also admit that the chances that their candidate will be able to meet campaign promises and pull US forces out quickly next year – whatever the situation on the ground in Iraq – is equally absurd.
The reality is that, once the posturing is done and the election is over, whoever wins is going to have to sit down with General Petraeus or his successor – without the television cameras – and figure out a pragmatic resolution to this messy and prolonged American engagement.
And as I’ve previously written, even if that winner is the netroots favorite, the netroots are going to have to provide unrelenting pressure to push that winner to get honest and serious about doing what really needs be done. Because no one is yet being honest and serious. No one is really explaining how we really get out of Iraq.
Mitchell closes by asking this of Atkinson:
But what about the argument that leaving Iraq now would dishonor the soldiers who have died so far? “It’s not George Bush’s military,” he replied, “but the country’s as a whole, and the collective proprietorship means we collectively decide if it is used properly and the cause is worth their sacrifice–and whether that cause should be truncated or we stay there forever.”
The country as a whole has long been clear on that. The politicians never have been. Will someone please tell me how this ends?