Saturday, July 14, 2007

Putting Words in Petraeus's Mouth

Senator Reed says it looks like David Petraeus is ready to quit. (After all, that's all the Democrats seem to mean when they say 'change course.')

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said his impression from a conversation with General David Petraeus was that the leader of U.S. troops in Iraq “seemed very eager to come forward as quickly as possible with a new direction and policy.”

Reed, the co-sponsor of legislation that would require President Bush to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by April of next year, recently made his tenth trip to Iraq and spoke with Petraeus, who is slated to report to Congress in September on the progress of the war.

The senator said, in an interview with C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” show that is expected to air Sunday, that he was surprised that Petraeus went out of his way to say that he might have something to say in August and not wait until September.
Somebody better tell the White House, because that doesn't seem to jive with what they're saying. Tony Snow for example, gave no hint of this the other day.

Congressional Democrats have complained privately that Petraeus has acted at times, like a cheerleader for the war effort. They have argued that as a military person, he should prosecute the war and leave policy decisions to the elected. Having brought his purported opinions into the debate (again), they better not complain if he comes to Washington again to set the record straight.

It's worth noting that Petraeus's tone as relayed by Reed is rather different from what he told the Christian Science Monitor on the record a few days ago:

The release of a White House report Thursday, showing the Iraqi government had only made "satisfactory" progress on eight of 18 benchmarks, may accelerate a congressional push for a midterm accounting, with some critics saying July is the new September. Gen. David Petraeus is due to report to Congress on progress in Iraq in September.

But in an interview, General Petraeus insists, "September is September from my perspective."

"What the ambassador [to Iraq, Ryan Crocker] and I will do in September is to provide a forthright, comprehensive assessment of the situation at the time and provide discussion of the potential consequences of various courses of action that might be considered," he says...

Progress, says Petraeus, is not limited to this area south of Baghdad, but throughout neighboring provinces. "The dynamic out there that is very surprising in the past several months is the increasing rejection by the Sunni population of Al Qaeda ideology," he says.

The prospect of any hasty removal of US troops has him concerned. "If we pull out there will be greatly increased sectarian violence, humanitarian concerns.... You don't know what could happen in terms of dangerous conflicts, what could happen along the Kurdish/Shiite/Sunni fault lines, or how [Iraq's] neighbors will react."

Is Petraeus playing both sides against the middle -- telling a powerful member of the Armed Services Committee what he thinks he wants to hear, while he tells the White House another? If so, he was sloppy -- since Reed revealed it. Further, Petraeus will look silly issuing a finding in August (either official or de facto) after he and the White House have made clear so many times that the next assessment will be in September.

Or was Senator Reed projecting -- or reading more into what Petraeus said? Given the dramatic contradiction between Reed's rendition and Petraeus in the Christian Science Monitor, I have to think that's more likely.

Update: If Reed is right -- and I'm dubious -- then the President is in for a very rude awakening:

Almost every time President Bush has defended his new strategy in Iraq this year, he has invoked the name of the top commander, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Speaking in Cleveland on Tuesday, Bush called Petraeus his "main man" -- a "smart, capable man who gives me his candid advice." And on Thursday, as the president sought to stave off a revolt among congressional Republicans, he said he wanted "to wait to see what David has to say. I trust David Petraeus, his judgment."

I'm sure the President believes he has a good sense of the general's thinking. But maybe Petraeus is playing his own game:

Some of Petraeus's military comrades worry that the general is being set up by the Bush administration as a scapegoat if conditions in Iraq fail to improve. "The danger is that Petraeus will now be painted as failing to live up to expectations and become the fall guy for the administration," one retired four-star officer said.


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