From today’s New York Times
WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 — President Bush, appearing confident about sustaining support for his Iraq strategy, met at the Pentagon on Friday with the uniformed leaders of the nation’s armed services and then pointedly accused the war’s opponents of politicizing the debate over what to do next.
“The stakes in Iraq are too high and the consequences too grave for our security here at home to allow politics to harm the mission of our men and women in uniform,” Mr. Bush said in a statement after his meeting with the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines in a briefing room known as the Tank.
The meeting, which lasted an hour and a half, was among the president’s last Iraq strategy sessions before he leaves for Australia to meet with leaders of Asian and Pacific nations. It came on the eve of a string of reports and hearings that, starting next week, could determine the course of the remaining 16 months of Mr. Bush’s presidency.
Beginning on Tuesday, when Congress returns from its August recess, lawmakers are prepared to debate what to do in Iraq in daily hearings that will culminate on Sept. 10 and Sept. 11 with appearances by the ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, and the military commander there, Gen. David H. Petraeus.
Congress has mandated a progress report from the White House before Sept. 15, and Mr. Bush chided lawmakers for calling for a change in policy before hearing the views of the two men who are, as administration officials repeatedly point out, “on the ground in Iraq.”
What’s happening is that Bush & Co are preparing to blame the Democrats for undermining the Iraq venture just when it appeared that it might have turned the corner.
The outlines of the argument are beginning to emerge. Here are the headlines:
One of the problems we outsiders have is that it’s almost impossible to reach any informed judgement about the current overall position in Iraq. Of course the media reports are bad, but I don’t trust them because we know that Western media cannot operate in 99 per cent of the country.
For that reason, I found the recent report by Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack of the Brookings Institution very interesting. Here’s their ‘overall assessment’:
There is a great deal going well in Iraq but, unfortunately, also a great deal going badly. Points of view often heard in Washington, that the war is already lost on the one hand, or bound to be won if we are adequately patient on the other, seem at odds with conditions on the battlefield and throughout the country.
The greatest progress has been made in providing security to the Iraqi people in those areas currently under direct U.S. military supervision—namely, Baghdad, its outlying areas to north and south (the “Belts”), al-Anbar province in the West, and Ninawah and Salah ad-Din in the North. Overall, we felt that progress in security was actually greater than what we had expected given how recently the increase in troops as well as the change in U.S. and Iraqi strategy and tactics under General David Petraeus had occurred.
We assessed that national, macro-level economic progress remained marginal, but there was some considerable local economic progress, typically correlated with the presence of a fully-staffed provincial reconstruction team (PRT) or such a team embedded within a military unit (EPRT). We saw effectively no signs of progress in the high-level political discussions meant to effect national reconciliation.
Current U.S. strategy envisions the provision of greater security making possible local economic and political progress (of which we saw some modest but noteworthy evidence) and strategic-level national reconciliation or accommodation (of which we saw no evidence). Our observations suggest that the Coalition is making progress in accordance with this strategy—although it is very early in the process, there are still very significant hurdles to overcome, and there is no evidence that can prove that this strategy is destined to succeed. Nevertheless, especially given the difficulties of finding a viable alternative strategy (a “Plan B”) for Iraq that would safeguard U.S. interests, we conclude that the progress made so far argues for giving the surge and its attendant military and political strategies more time. However, we caution that the U.S. is not yet irrevocably headed for success in Iraq, so the Administration and the Congress should remain vigilant. The change in course in Iraq has produced enough success to warrant supporting its continuation at least through the remainder of 2007, but progress should be continuously reassessed, especially beginning again in early 2008.
Hmmm… Note the way the Brookings guys try to have it both ways. On the one hand,
“given the difficulties of finding a viable alternative strategy (a “Plan B”) for Iraq that would safeguard U.S. interests, we conclude that the progress made so far argues for giving the surge and its attendant military and political strategies more time.
[Translation: it’s worth persevering. Indeed we have no option but to persevere.]
However, we caution that the U.S. is not yet irrevocably headed for success in Iraq, so the Administration and the Congress should remain vigilant.
[Translation: we never said it was a sure thing, so don’t blame us for not portraying the downside.]
Don’t you just love that phrase “the U.S. is not yet irrevocably headed for success in Iraq”?