Petraeus and the ‘Long Pole’

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By: Greg Mitchell

On May 8, General David Petraeus appeared, via satellite from Baghdad, at The Associated Press’s annual meeting in New York. Much like the episode today, at the outset of his testimony on the “surge” on Capitol Hill, there was a communication breakdown at the start: No sound. Perhaps like some others in the crowd at the AP gathering, I saw the symbolism in this.

But then the technology kicked in and Petraeus, dressed in camouflage fatigues, offered what was essentially a preview of his testimony of progress today. It was clear, even then, there was no way David Petraeus was going to give General Petraeus a bad mark. Then he took questions for a few minutes from a pair of AP reporters who had covered the war and met him previously.

But there was one key difference: Today he measured everything in terms of some kind of military or security progress. Back in May, he declared that political progress and reconciliation was the “long pole” in this tent.

This priority is inconvenient now, since everyone, including his partner on the Hill today, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, admits that political progress and reconciliation in Iraq is non-existent. Crocker was so desperate to find some advance on that he was reduced to citing a communique from leaders promising to work on it.

Well, as Tom Ricks and Karen DeYoung sum it up so well in Tuesday’s Washington Post: “If Gen. David H. Petraeus has his way, tens of thousands of U.S. troops will be in Iraq for years to come.”

Here, from the military’s transcript, is the key portion of Petraeus’s remarks to the AP in May.

So we are really still in the fairly early stages. We don’t have, you know, all the concrete walls and population control measures and markets hardened. It — I mean, this stuff takes quite a while. And that’s why I, you know, began right up off the bat back when I had the confirmation hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying that it would be late summer, early fall. And as you know, what we’ve settled on is some time in early — probably first or second week of September, Ambassador Crocker and I will link arms and come back and provide an assessment.

I have said that, you know, if I really don’t think that it can work, for a variety of reasons, and they could be, you know — it could be a number of different reasons. But you’ve heard me say what is necessary. And I think you have some sense of the long poles in the tent, which really are those actions that will build on what it is that we are trying to do.

Again, our action is necessary, not sufficient. The sufficient piece is the genuine demonstration of a willingness by all parties to reconcile with one another, to truly embrace what is enshrined in the Iraqi constitution — one Iraq, minority rights, no safe haven for terrorists and a government that is representative of and responsive to all Iraqis, and “all” is underlined.

I mean, that’s, I think, where we’re all sort of focusing like a laser beam. That is what Ambassador Crocker is increasingly over time — and as you know, he’s just been on the ground now about a month or so. We have a very good partnership. And that’s where we’re focusing. And again, that is the long pole in the tent.

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