In just a few days General David Petraeus will present to Congress his eagerly awaited report on the status of our war efforts in Iraq. Yet already The Los Angeles Times has said the report will be written (or has already been written) by the White House!

Not only that, but under the terms of congressional legislation, the president has the authority to determine how the data in that report will be interpreted. In other words, don’t expect any surprises. We will be told “the surge” is working and that victory is attainable if the U.S. will simply stay the course.

At first glance, it seems highly improbable that Petraeus, commander of American forces in Iraq, could be used as a PR flack (the Times’ term). His credentials are impeccable: West Point graduate; holder of numerous leadership positions such as brigade commander of the 82nd Airborne Division; top graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College; and holder of M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton in international relations. A Gallup poll taken earlier this month showed that only 21% of adults surveyed gave Petraeus an unfavorable rating. Thus, his advocacy of the “surge” and its attainments, are likely to be treated as credible by most Americans.

It seems unimaginable that Petraeus would compromise these achievements by carrying out a mandate to parrot a company line he didn’t accept: that we are making huge strides in winning the Iraq war and establishing security throughout Baghdad. Until Petraeus stepped in, the previous four years consisted mostly of flawed strategy and widespread frustration, both within the military and on the part of the public.

Petraeus, a serious student of global relationships, has said that not only the security of the United States, but global stability and the future of East-West relationships depend on how the Iraq war plays out. President Bush, on the record, has deferred to Petraeus, saying he will wait for the general “to come back and give us the report on what he sees.”

A similar report to Congress in mid-July said that eight of 18 “benchmarks” had been achieved. Yet today’s Washington Post (August 30) claims that only three of 18 have been accomplished. The benchmarks range from training Iraq’s security forces to be self-sufficient, to solving the political turbulence that prevails.

It is unlikely that Petraeus’ report will recommend anything approaching a quick troop withdrawal and the virtual abandonment of Iraq. He is on record as saying U.S. troops, in some capacity, could be in Iraq a decade from now. He knows full well, from the Vietnam experience, the reprisals and genocide that can occur when an occupying protective force leaves too soon. Pentagon estimates say it would take nearly two years to withdraw troops, contractors, vehicles, munitions and equipment from Iraq. And the final contingents could conceivably have to fight their way out.

As one reads the daily reports from Iraq about continued car bombings, its failing economy, the hapless political system, and the corrupt Iraqi police force, any optimism about the future of Iraq calls to mind the following Christmas story. A little boy awakens on Christmas morning, and having been promised his heart’s desire by Santa, rushes to the window. Outside he sees a huge pile of manure. Grabbing a shovel he attacks the mound with all his might, exclaiming, “There’s got to be a pony in here someplace!”

Are there enough promising things happening in Iraq for General Petraeus to deliver a positive and convincing report to Congress and the nation? Will he do so, even if the report, as The Los Angeles Times asserts, is essentially written by White House insiders as a validation of the Bush administration’s strategy? Or will Petraeus be driven by his West Point upbringing and devotion to “duty, honor and country” and tell it like it is – that a bitter disappointment awaits that youngster digging on Christmas morning: there is no pony.

– Chase.Hamil

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