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Petraeus, Crocker Deliver More of the Same on Iraq

After sitting through the testimony of a couple of anti-war protesters and listening to opening statements from the leaders of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, Gen. David Petraeus said the situation in Iraq was “complex, difficult and downright frustrating.” The general told Congress the military objectives of the “surge” in U.S. troops in Iraq “are in large measure being met” and that he believes the U.S. military can reduce forces in Iraq to pre-surge levels by next summer, to 130,000 troops. [IMGCAP(1)]

The bottom line from Petraeus was “we can achieve progress, but it won’t be easy.”

Tell that to the American taxpayers who now believe the Iraq War was a mistake and are eager to see our troops come home. Better, the general should explain this to the Iraqi government, which appears to be in a perpetual state of political paralysis, unable to meet benchmarks they proposed. If the Iraqis are not interested in achieving victory by sitting down and working through some difficult issues, then is it possible that our military alone can bring about victory?

I don’t envy Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). They are caught between a war-weary public and an active anti-war base with some of the presidential candidates believing it’s time to cut off funding for the Iraq War. They also are trying to find a compromise that will help them garner enough votes from the Republicans to move in a new direction. Perhaps they will conclude, out of frustration, that there is only one option that makes sense: Run down the clock until the next president takes office.

What Petraeus presented to Members of Congress on Monday was just another status report on staying the course. Too bad. I really anticipated more from Petraeus and, for that matter, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker than to simply state that the military now has an “open door for meaningful progress.” That’s news we all like to hear, but where’s the proof? How can you bring together a country with little or no national identity?

Since the beginning and in the face of overwhelming evidence, the Bush administration has never faltered in its determination to “stay the course” in Iraq. Certainly no single person, even a general, could shake a commitment so steady. Petraeus’ testimony could have been written months ago, and the foregone conclusions assuredly vetted, if not drafted, by the administration. The surge would be declared a success, even if it wasn’t, to provide the administration and their cohorts on Capitol Hill with an excuse to follow their failed strategy.

Still, Democrats continue to wallow around and get nowhere, thinking they are sitting on solid ground and building momentum to make big gains in ’08, but the Republicans also have a plan and the Democrats are playing right into it. All the GOP has to do to knock Democrats out of ’08 contention is claim progress, withdraw small numbers of troops at strategic times between January and March of next year, then announce a significant troop withdrawal in October. Or catch, capture or kill Osama bin Laden.

What’s clear is President Bush, who will address the nation later this week, isn’t moving. He’s chosen another path to “victory” in Iraq and will just change the goal post — but not be diverted voluntarily. Republicans leaders have little incentive to compromise with the Democrats to change course for fear that alienating a White House still in power ultimately will come back to haunt them next year.

It’s sad to think that today is the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and we have drifted so far off course. On 9/11, we were awakened to the real threat of a deadly, delusional and radical segment of Islam that regarded the West as an enemy and sought to destroy us. In the six years since, we have squandered the time, torn our own country apart during what could have been a unifying time, and made little, if any, progress in fighting the war on terror.

Tragic, I would say.

Right now, we’re all playing a losing hand. The U.S. cannot win in Iraq by just having a military strategy with no timetable for political reconciliation. The Democrats cannot change the course without some bipartisan leadership from the Republican minority. And Bush will address the nation to once again ask for more time, more patience, more money and more sacrifice from our troops and their families. One thing is for sure: Something has to change, Mr. President, and fast, or we all lose.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.

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