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Critics Knew Petraeus Was On Point By: Alan Nathan
Washington Times | Thursday, September 20, 2007


Reminiscent of the days when soldiers and sailors were spat upon by large segments of anti-war activists in the '60s and early '70s, congressional expectorating was launched in the direction of one Gen. David Petraeus before, during and after his testimony in both the House and Senate.

Though senators unanimously confirmed Gen. Petraeus to head up the multinational forces in Iraq as of January this year, too many of them supplanted tempered reason with temper tantrums: "By carefully manipulating the statistics, the Bush-Petraeus report will try to persuade us that violence in Iraq is decreasing and thus the surge is working," said Sen. Dick Durbin in Congressional Quarterly on Sept. 7. "And let me be clear, the violence in Anbar has gone down despite the surge, not because of the surge. The inability of American soldiers to protect these tribes from al Qaeda said to these tribes, 'We have to fight al Qaeda ourselves,'" said Sen. Charles Schumer on Sept. 5.

So, despite having predicated the general's confirmation on his honesty, fealty and military professionalism, many of those same politicos now characterize him as a liar, a cheat and a patsy — simply because his status report on the troop surge did not comport with their agenda.

Since when should the continued respect for someone's long-acknowledged veracity be contingent upon the extent to which his findings coincide with the politics of either party?

In response to those expressing doubt about his formula for quantifying progress, Gen. Petraeus testified that, "Two U.S. intelligence agencies recently reviewed our methodology and they concluded that the data we produced is the most accurate and authoritative in Iraq."

Had the general come back with an abysmal report about Iraq, does anyone really believe that war supporters would have so similarly disparaged the general's honor because said analysis proved contrary to their original hopes? If your answer is anything but no, congratulations — you've just demonstrated the intellectual prowess of a hairbrush.

Even House Majority Whip James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, gave Gen. Petraeus the respect he has earned. After first saying a good report from the general "would be a real big problem for us," he soon after admitted that, "we get good intelligence from those people like General Petraeus who can be trusted to give us good information." However, Democratic senators like presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of New York and Barbara Boxer of California disagreed with Mr. Clyburn's faith in Petraeus.

Mrs. Boxer echoed again the familiar and preposterous argument that, "Our presence in Iraq is recruiting terrorists for al Qaeda," as if such an observation is the measure of anything substantive.

Are we to surmise that our actions against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan aren't provoking recruits as well? Are we to believe that our assaults on their cells and operations anywhere in the world aren't doing the same thing? All opposing sides in a war use their ongoing conflict as a recruiting tool — it's the natural byproduct of the enemy's resistance. But since when should we permit the enemy's resistance to become the self-serving justification for our military's acquiescence?

By such a standard, the only way to deter an enemy's growth in ranks is to grant them a victory with the forces they already possess. It's like saying we're only allowed to win providing we don't defeat the enemy.

Not to be outdone, Sen. Hillary Clinton's accusations defined Gen. Petraeus as nothing but a prevaricator. When questioning him on September 11, she lectured that, "I think that the reports that you provide to us really require a willing suspension of disbelief." The phrase "suspension of disbelief" is a literary term of art referring to one of Aristotle's principles of theater in which the audience accepts fiction as reality so as to experience a catharsis, or a releasing of tensions to purify the soul. The general's testimony, however, was more in keeping with Bertolt Brecht's philosophy of verfremdungseffect, or distancing from that suspended disbelief, in order to maintain a clearheaded appreciation of the drama in focus. Perhaps another viewing of Brecht's ‘Threepenny Opera' might prove more edifying for her.

If that doesn't work, there's always the more sobering script furnished by the general himself. He testified that since December, ethnocentric deaths have dropped by 80 percent in Baghdad and 55 percent nationwide.

In Anbar Province (one-third of Iraq formerly responsible for over 50 percent of American fatalities), attacks have plummeted from 1,000 in October 2006 to 200 in August, and it is now controlled by the United States and its recently acquired Sunni allies.

But war opponents prefer to remind everyone that the Government Accountability Office Report on Iraq was far less flattering. It doesn't faze them that said findings were based on data ending five weeks before the general's own tracking and that his data was viewed by the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency as the superior gauge.

Hurry back General. You're already missed.

Alan Nathan, a combative centrist and "militant moderate," a columnist, and the nationally syndicated talk show host of "Battle Line With Alan Nathan" on the Radio America Network.


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