Monday, June 18, 2007

General Patsy builds his dream house

Reflecting on the latest bombing of the al-Askari mosque, Washington Post reporter (and author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq) Thomas Ricks looks at America’s position in Iraq and is reminded of a cautionary allegory told to him by Warren Buffett:

If you’ve been playing poker for half an hour and you don’t know who the patsy at the table is—you are the patsy.

If you don’t think that rings chillingly true all by its lonesome, have a gander at the words of General David Petraeus, Commander of US forces in Iraq, as he begins his long Summer’s spin toward the September assessment of the Bush war escalation (assembled from three sources):

If you drive around Baghdad, you'll find astonishing signs of normalcy in perhaps half to two-thirds of the city. I’m talking about professional soccer leagues with real grass field stadiums, several amusement parks — big ones, markets that are very vibrant. . . .

The Iraqi army has, in general, done quite well in the face of some really serious challenges. In certain areas it really is very heartening to see what it has done. . . .

In fact, the car bomb numbers have come down fairly steadily as well until just a couple of days ago, and we'll see if we can get those coming down again. . . .

There's a real vibrancy in certain parts of Iraq, and in others obviously there is continued fighting and a sectarian cycle of violence underway. Obviously, there is damage, a need to … help them stitch back the fabric of society that was torn during the height of the sectarian violence.

Many have jumped all over the “soccer leagues” reference as a good example of how either out-of-touch or untrustworthy Petraeus is, but what jumped out at me was that last line, the one that refers to the height of sectarian violence in the past tense (was torn).

The General made his comments on the same day as the minaret bombings in Samarra, and before Thursday’s retaliatory attacks on numerous Sunni mosques, but after the release of a Pentagon report that showed how very much in the thick of sectarian violence Iraq and its occupiers are right now.

Spencer Ackerman and Think Progress have more on the specific absurdities in the Petraeus assessment, but even a casual observer of the situation knows that, in the darkest terms, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

And, if it is the case that General Petraeus is not just another Bush apologist, if it is the case that he actually believes that things are vibrant, or getting better, or that the peak sectarian violence is behind us, well, then, you really ain’t seen the worst.

As Ricks, evaluating the latest round of miscalculations and Pollyanna pronouncements, says, paraphrasing legendary military strategist Carl von Clausewitz:

The first and really only task of the top commander is to understand the nature of conflict in which he is engaged.

If von Clausewitz were around to play cards with today’s global leaders, he probably wouldn’t need the full half hour to fix his gaze firmly on the US command. Isn’t it about time for General Petraeus, and the civilian leadership to which he must answer, to take a good look around the table—and a sincere look at the entire house of cards that is Iraq?

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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