Gen. David Petraeus did his best on Monday to sell to Congress his boss' push for continuing an unpopular war. But his best was not good enough.
Most of America wants us out of Iraq. And unlike Iraq, America is a representative democracy. The people's will eventually will be done - regardless of how badly
President Bush wants his Iraq strategy to work.
Four and half years and more than 3,700 dead American soldiers after the initial invasion, and we are now told that what we need is more time and more manpower if we really want to do this job right. "It is possible to achieve our objectives in Iraq over time," Petraeus said.
Unfortunately, Petraeus - like his commander in chief - is not all that forthcoming on a couple of important items:
Exactly what are our objectives?
Exactly how long does "over time" constitute? A year? Five years? Ten years? Forever?
If the objective remains a democratic, unified Iraq (we still remember when the objective was finding the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction), "forever" is probably the best answer for question two.
Petraeus and Bush are savvy enough to know that America wants to see progress on ending this war. That is one reason why the general included a talk of troop reductions in his speech to Congress.
Unfortunately, Petraeus' proposed troop reduction - to be accomplished by next summer - would simply approximate the 30,000-troop "surge" put in place in recent months. Other military analysts have suggested that such a reduction would be necessary whether Petraeus and Bush wanted it or not. Our military is simply stretched too thin to keep 160,000 troops permanently in Iraq without unfairly burdening the military or harming other missions.
If this 30,000-troop reduction were followed up with a plan on how to extricate the rest of our troops from Iraq, Petraeus' speech Monday would have been welcomed. But that was not the case. In fact, when questioned, Petraeus seemed uncomfortable in supplying any answer to the question: "How do we leave?"
He did supply plenty of charts and graphs to show that the surge has succeeded in reducing the amount of sectarian killing in Iraq and generally in calming the place down. But those figures are strongly challenged by critics. As the Washington Post has pointed out, a death is counted as a sectarian killing only if the bullet enters the victim's skull from the back. Others claim civilian deaths are grossly undercounted or ignored.
You know the old saying, "Statistics don't lie, but ..."
But some areas certainly are more stable. Petraeus credits the surge for this.
Others,including Iraqis, credit the fact that ethnic cleansing has begun in earnest in and around Baghdad. Sunnis and Shia are not killing each other in as great of numbers in some neighborhoods because they have separated themselves into all-Sunni and all-Shia enclaves. Yet, a poll of Iraqis released Monday directly contradicts Petraeus' suggestion that security has improved - 61 percent of Iraqis say it has worsened. These are the people who live in the turmoil.
Meanwhile, far too many American soldiers continue to die in a war with no discernable objective - including nine more killed on Monday. Most Americans do not want to hear that our "mission" in Iraq just might succeed in a few years. They want to hear how we are going to get our soldiers home.