In recent days, more and more Republicans in Congress have started to say that September represents some kind of make or break* deadline for the Presidentâ€™s Iraq War policy/strategy/whatever. WaPo brought us a fine selection of these statements in Tuesday’s edition:
“Many of my Republican colleagues have been promised they will get a straight story on the surge by September,” said Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). “I won’t be the only Republican, or one of two Republicans, demanding a change in our disposition of troops in Iraq at that point. That is very clear to me.”
“September is the key,” said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds defense. “If we don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, September is going to be a very bleak month for this administration.”
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who has taken a hard line in Bush’s favor, said Sunday, “By the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn’t, what’s Plan B.”
“There is a sense that by September, you’ve got to see real action on the part of Iraqis,” said Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). “I think everybody knows that, I really do.”
“I think a lot of us feel that way,” agreed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
Anyone who has had even a passing interest in politics during these last few years from hell that we call the Bush Presidency, knows fully well how so many people have kept threatening for so many years that President Bush gets just six months more to show some real progress. The biggest offender, of course, is NYT columnist Thomas Friedman, whose name is now forever attached to the standing joke about this behavior.
As the chorus of Republican voices claiming that September was going to be a serious reappraisal deadline started to get louder, several people who should really know better did all the obligatory pointing-out of previous widespread exhibitions of Friedman Deadline Syndrome, but then declared that this time, for various reasons that they then went on to explain, they really think things may come to a head in September. They really think that if the situation in Iraq does not improve by then, a non-trivial number of Republicans in Congress may indeed start to withdraw their blind support to Bushâ€™s criminally failed war.
Stranger things may have happened in our collective living memory, but if they did then no one survived to tell the tale.
Let’s recall the reason why September has become a natural reappraisal point in the first place. It is because Gen. Petraeus has promised us a “forthright assessment” of progress in Iraq in September.
During Secretary Gates’ recent visit to Iraq, we agreed that in early September, Ambassador Ryan Crocker and I would provide an assessment of the situation in Iraq with respect to our mission and offer recommendations on the way ahead. We will be forthright in that assessment, as I believe I have been with you today.
And secondly, your recommendations in September, are you willing to countenance the idea that you may have to say to the president, this is not working, we should pull troops out, or are you more likely to say things are not going well, here are the adjustments and strategies we need to make?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, on the latter one, I mean, I have an obligation to some wonderful young men and women in uniform, and a lot of civilians, by the way, who are serving in Iraq and who deserve a forthright assessment from the folks at the top about the situation on the ground, and that’s what I’m going to provide.
So Republicans are willing to wait till September to decide if they will challenge the President essentially because that’s what the President has repeatedly asked them to do. He has repeatedly asked that progress in Iraq be assessed only after all the forces deemed to be required for the surge have been committed (which is slated to happen only in June), and Gen. Petraeus has been given a chance to implement the strategy he was put there to implement. And Gen. Petraeus has declared that we should be able to gauge progress by September.
The trouble with the “just wait till September” argument is that, between now and September all kinds of things may happen to cause Gen. Petraeus to change his mind about when the progress of the surge can and should be judged. Everyone who threatened to reassess their support for the war in September will, of course, then be honor bound to wait till whatever future date Gen. Petraeus picks.
The trouble with the “just wait till September” argument is that the time-frame required for the surge strategy to resolve itself is curiously elastic. This elasticity found expression only yesterday, when Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day commander for U.S. military operations in Iraq, declared: “The surge needs to go through the beginning of next year for sure”.
“What I am trying to do is to get until April so we can decide whether to keep it going or not,” he said in an interview in Baghdad last week.
That somehow doesn’t sound a whole lot like what Gen. Petraeus was saying barely two weeks earlier. And Gen. Odierno moved the date of reckoning forward 7 months in one shot without even working up a sweat.
The trouble with the “just wait till September” argument is that it seems to rest on some kind of assumption that Gen. Petraeus is an honorable man. From where I’m sitting, the evidence seems to be that this statement is true only in the sense of Mark Anthony‘s famous “So are they all, all honourable men”.
Let’s not forget how Petraeus came by his command. When Bush decided he absolutely needed a general in charge in Iraq who would listen to him (so he could then in turn listen to his general), Petraeus was the complaisant general who stepped forward to say “Where do I sign? Sir!”
And if you were somehow expecting some kind of display of honesty and integrity from this fine talking man, maybe this will make you think again:
Reporters should also ask Gen. David Petraeus, who is directing the “surge” effort in Iraq, why he lied in responding to a reporter’s question this week concerning widespread abuse by U.S. troops.
At the Associated Pressâ€™ annual meeting in New York on Tuesday, I sat in the audience observing Gen. Petraeus on a huge screen, via satellite from Baghdad, as he answered questions from two AP journalists. Asked about a military study of over 1,300 U.S. troops in Iraq, released last week, which showed increasing mental stress — and an alarming spillover into poor treatment of noncombatants — Petraeus replied, “When I received that survey I was very concerned by the results. It showed a willingness of a fair number to not report the wrongdoing of their buddies.”
That’s true enough, but then he asserted that the survey showed that only a “small number” admitted they may have mistreated “detainees.”
That was a lie. Actually, the study found that 10% of U.S. forces reported that they had personally, and without cause, mistreated civilians (not detainees) through physical violence or damage to personal property.
This is the man you want to see in control of when it’s time for maverick Republicans reassess Iraq?
I guess with all the attention Tim Russertâ€™s big scoop from last night is getting, Iâ€™m pretty much forced to comment on that too:
In a sign of the growing fissure between the White House and its congressional allies over the war, NBC News reports tonight that 11 Republican members of Congress pleaded yesterday with President Bush and his senior aides to change course in Iraq.
The group of Republicans was led by Reps. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Charlie Dent (R-PA), and the meeting included Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Karl Rove, and Tony Snow. One member of Congress called the discussion the â€œmost unvarnished conversation theyâ€™ve ever had with the president,â€ and NBCâ€™s Tim Russert said it â€œmay have been a defining pivotal momentâ€ in the Iraq debate.
Apparently they went in there, and they did some very plain talking. And President Bush must have been fully forewarned how it was going to go down — and maybe even sedated in advance — because he didnâ€™t fly off the handle and call anybody any names.
(Oh, House Minority Leader John Boehner was there too, apparently. If you think The Politico has any credibility left at this point, that is.)
But I have a really hard time seeing this as any kind of pivotal moment, let alone a defining one. For several reasons.
One, when I see Tim Russert breaking a story of this type, a very loud chorus of voices breaks out in my head, asking: â€œWho leaked this to him, and more importantly, why?â€
Two, it was a very long time ago that I abandoned all hope that anyone saying anything to Bush, no matter how â€œunvarnishedâ€, could make the slightest difference to his actions.
Three, recent history seems to have pretty much proved that just because a bunch of Republicans talk tough to Bush — in public or in private — doesnâ€™t mean that they have the slightest intention of being caught dead voting against him in any way.
So, as far as Iâ€™m concerned, the big news here is that someone who attended that meeting (maybe everyone?) wants us to believe that Bushâ€™s bubble just got pricked. They want us to believe that something will now be different.
That almost seems to be sufficient reason to believe that it wonâ€™t.
* Of course, the last time we heard this phrase was when Buttercheeks made his make or break appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. Yet another phrase that doesn’t seem to mean anything close to what it once used to…