Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I Dream I Could Fight Like David Watts Petraeus

The latest in Iraq-war spin is that the country should ignore the non-partisan report detailing the lack of progress in Iraq put together by the professional investigators and auditors at the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Instead, we should withhold judgment until the debut of the more credible report from Ryan Crocker (a Bush administration official) and General Petraeus (serving at the leisure of Bush, whose professional reputation and ego are staked to the success of the plan he will be reporting on).

Oh, and that "report" from Crocker and Petraeus won't actually be a "report" per se, but rather a series of findings submitted to the White House, after which the White House will then select certain portions of those findings and use them to author the actual report. This White House generated report, according to the spin, is bound to be more honest and objective than the partisan screed of some non-partisan government watchdog. Uh-huh.

It is understandable why the GAO report has the Bush administration and its supporters a bit nervous, though:
Comptroller General David Walker, who heads the GAO, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday that "the least progress has been made on the political front." Fifteen of 37 cabinet ministers have "withdrawn support" for the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and serious problems remain in other ministries, Walker said.

"Given the fact that significant progress has not been made in improving the living conditions of the Iraqis on a day-to-day basis with regard to things that all citizens care about -- safe streets, clean water, reliable electricity, a variety of other basic things," he concluded, "I think you'd have to say it's dysfunctional -- the government is dysfunctional."
This lack of political progress is actually not all that controversial at this point - and will get less push-back in the Bush administration's report due to its obviousness. Instead, the Bush report (with input from Petraeus/Crocker) will focus on putative improvements in the security situation. Even here, though, the case is rather weak. From the GAO report (with a specious rebuttal):
Iraq had failed to meet all but two of nine security goals Congress had set as part of a list of 18 benchmarks of progress. [...]

The GAO concluded that all forms of violence remain high in Iraq — causing senior military officials to complain that the report did not consider statistics for August, when, they said, trends in sectarian violence and the performance of the Iraqi security forces improved.
"They use the end of July as the data and evidentiary cutoff and therefore are not taking into account any gains in any of the benchmarks that may have become more clear throughout August," one official said.
This attempted wiggle led Kevin Drum to observe:
This is beyond pathetic. Even if the August numbers are good — and that's a helluva stretch in any case — are they seriously contending that we should toss out the entire previous six months and judge the surge a success based four weeks of data? Is that the best they can do?
Although Drum is right that the August numbers (and others) are likely the product of fuzzy math, he still leaves out one of the more salient facets of this statistical ruse: the Bush administration hasn't been willing to provide the full August numbers to any outside source for scrutiny and/or verification - including the GAO!
Walker said the GAO consulted with the military until Thursday. "We asked for, but did not receive, the information through the end of August," he said.
Amazing. The White House and its supporters blame the GAO for not taking certain numbers into account - but those would be the same numbers that they couldn't take into account because Bush administration wouldn't provide them. A rather fetching 22 if I do say so myself.

In depressingly familiar lockstep, however, reporters at supposedly liberal media outlets like CNN parrot the right wing talking points: that the White House report compiled with input from Crocker and Petraeus will be the credible version of events in Iraq, while the GAO report is riddled with inaccuracies and perhaps influenced by partisanship (unlike, you know, the White House's version of events!!).

The foundation for this latest bit of up-is-downism is the Bush administration's larger strategy of piggy-backing on, and shielding itself from criticism with, the credibility and reputation of General Petraeus. Bush now frequently makes a show of deferring to "Petraeus's plan in Iraq" [ed note: it's Bush's plan of course, as Bush is the CinC], and beseeches us all to suspend our scrutiny and observations of the war zone until Petraeus can tell us, through his White House ventriloquists, that things are really looking up. In other words, that there is some slight progress being made toward mini-benchmarks that might yield to reaching actual benchmarks at some point in the future, which could be over a decade away. Or not. You never know.

Despite the reliance on - and touting of - the veracity of Petraeus's word, there are strong indications that Petraeus himself is not exactly the objective, disinterested, straight shooter that he is portrayed to be. In the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Korb (scroll to middle of page) makes a compelling case that Petraeus has repeatedly overstepped ethical lines in order to interfere in the political sphere in favor of the Republican Party, and the war in Iraq generally speaking.

In particular, Korb cites a 2004 Op-Ed (which is reposted by Brent Budowsky at Chez Larry Johnson). In this Op-Ed - released at the climax of the presidential campaign - Petraeus gushes about the successes in Iraq in terms of training a non-sectarian, nationalist military and police force. As Budowsky points out, though, Petraeus was either lying or simply displayed a galling lack of judgment and analytical prowess. The claims made by Petraeus in that column have been eviscerated by subsequent events. Regardless, injecting such a tendentious column into a presidential campaign in obvious favor of one side is not what a high ranking military officer should be doing.

Then comes the disturbing reports of Petraeus's latest subterfuge: the Potemkin-like Dora marketplace that is artificially secured and populated in order to impress visiting politicians, pundits and think tank denizens (O'Hanlon, I'm looking at you). The details of this propagandistic sleight of hand are truly stunning in their audacity. But then, Dora is just a small part of the larger PR blitz that the supposedly non-partisan, honest general has been overseeing (described by Kevin Drum and Laura Rozen quite adeptly).

Given this background, the upcoming White House report (erroneously touted as the Petraeus/Crocker report) should be taken with an entire shaker of salt. Think about the methodology: the White House will be writing a report with input from one of its employees, and a general who has shown, repeatedly, that he is more than willing to play political angles, employ dubious propaganda and twist actual events to fit the desired narrative.

Oh, and this is the report we should be focusing on, not that silly non-partisan GAO thingy.

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