Editorial: Al-Maliki awaiting the good general's report
Just when many Americans had concluded that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had learned nothing about being the leader of a democratic nation in the past 16 months, he spouts off in a way that proves he's a quick study, after all.
Criticism of him in the U.S. only sends “negative messages that encourage terrorism,” al-Maliki said last week in a spot-on impersonation of President Bush, who's long been fond of playing that particular self-preservation card.
Alas, al-Maliki was doing what everybody with any stake in Iraq has been for the past couple of weeks, which is posturing for advantageous position in advance of Gen. David Petraeus's much-anticipated testimony to Congress. Call it a policy of pre-emption. Along with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the commander of U.S. military forces in Iraq is scheduled to deliver his report card on the president's surge, starting Monday.
What Petraeus and Crocker have to say could have a fair amount of influence on how much of a future America has in an immensely unpopular war.
And so among those getting in their two cents' worth last week were the Government Accountability Office, which reported that Iraq's leaders are failing to meet the majority of military, economic and political benchmarks that Congress had imposed upon them as determinants of America's continued involvement there. GAO head David Walker was blunt – “The government is dysfunctional” -- in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
That GAO analysis was considerably less optimistic than July's assessment by Bush, who predictably begged to differ, saying that progress has been made. He was joined by the Pentagon, which disputed parts of the GAO report and was somewhat successful in getting it to tone down some of its harsher conclusions.
Meanwhile, some members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reportedly are lobbying for a pullback of up to half the 20 combat battalions now in Iraq, out of concern that too much of our military energies are being invested there and potentially compromising our response capabilities elsewhere, including Iran. Yet another panel of mostly retired military officers, chaired by Gen. James Jones, also called for a “significant reduction” in troops. Democratic leaders have long voiced support for a phased withdrawal, but recently key Republicans such as Sens. Dick Lugar of Indiana and John Warner of Virginia have indicated they're starting to lean that way, too.
Finally, not to be outdone, Osama bin Laden even elbowed his way into the picture Friday, emerging from three years' hiding with a videotape -- a “hey, remember me?” - timed to coincide with the sixth anniversary of 9/11. No doubt bin Laden is still scratching his turban over how America's attention turned from him, the devil actually responsible for 9-11, to the now-departed Saddam Hussein.
Poor Petraeus. Everybody is trying to steal his thunder.
The general helped create this circus, of course -- along with the parade of pols campaigning for national election next year -- when he told members of Congress in April that he'd need until September to honestly gauge the surge's impact. According to national media reports, Petraeus is expected to say that real progress has been made in Baghdad and Anbar Province, but it is fragile enough that he fears any significant decline in U.S. troop strength could reverse it. Reportedly, he might be able to cope with the loss of one combat brigade in early 2008.
Unlike most of America, we'll withhold judgment until we actually hear it from Petraeus' own lips.
It's possible, of course, that most have already made up their minds about Iraq, in which case Petraeus-Crocker may be little more than a highlight trailer before the real show. We worry even more that self-promoting politics will prevail over peace-and-stability-promoting pragmatism in whatever Iraq we eventually leave behind. Many Americans are understandably sour over the dubious origins of this war of choice, as well as the incompetence displayed in managing it since. That colors their perceptions of what should happen next - a hasty exit, for many.
We'd just say that there is no rewriting history. Iraq is what it is. So the question now is how to make the best of that bad situation. That's how decision-makers must approach this week's testimony. Stay the course or get out of Dodge do not have to be the only options.
But first, Americans owe the general who's been there a chance to speak. Then we can draw our conclusions.
Peoria Journal Star