Wednesday, April 09, 2008

What Wasn't Said by the General and the Ambassador

After the rush job yesterday to get initial impressions of the testimony by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker on the “Quakers’ Colonel,” I was on “travel mode” and out of the loop for about 150 minutes. As I was late for an appointment, I didn’t think much beyond what I had written – and as I later discovered had not written as I had missed one sheet of notes on the general’s testimony.

Whatever the reason, last night, lost somewhere in the noise of the television and the radio, I had a feeling I knew something about the testimony seemed to be missing – something fundamental. Neither official had said anything unexpected; most of their points had been telegraphed in the U.S. press for days if not weeks. There were a few more details provided about the central government’s planning , command and control, logistics, and combat air support arrangements as it positioned forces and supplies for the week-long (as it turned out to be) attack on Basra.

The U.S. commanders were aware that the Iraqis were planning an operation but were trying to stay on the periphery. So when the Iraqis revealed that the operation would be launched March 26th, it was already March 24, which sent U.S. advisors scrambling to catch up, especially in making sure U.S. aircraft would be available should the government forces need help. General Petraeus added, when asked directly by the committee chair, Senator Carl Levin (D), that Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki had disregarded his suggestion to delay the attack. Petraeus next saw al-Maliki just prior to leaving with Ambassador Crocker before the two U.S. officials flew to Washington. Al-Maliki was up-beat – publicly at least – about the operation, apparently believing the exercise had strengthened his position.

By the time I arrived at work today the problem that had been bothering me began to unravel of its own accord. I had been waiting for Petraeus and Crocker to speak specifically and directly to the steps they envisioned would carry them into January 2009 and that they would pass to the next president. Like Sherlock Holmes in “Silver Blaze, where the dog did not bark in the night, more important than what the general and the ambassador said was what they did not say. Beyond the 45 day assessment period that takes the calendar to mid-September – two weeks before the provincial elections – they offered no strategy.

I have no crystal ball, but the U.S. public can expect the July status quo to remain into February 2009 if not longer. There are provincial level elections in Iraq October 1st for which all available security units will be needed. Five weeks later is the presidential contest in the United States which, because of its symbolism (so the justification will go), dictates no troop reductions. In February the new administration will send its spending plan to Congress. And at that point, the country just might finally have a date certain for withdrawal that they and the men and women of the armed forces can take to the bank.

That is not a strategy either, but I think the Pentagon could build one quite easily on this basis.

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