The Day After: Editorials Not Convinced by Petraeus

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By: E&P Staff

So what does the press have to say, on the day after the landmark testimony of Gen. David Patraeus (along with Ambassador Ryan Crocker) on Capitol Hill, with another day to come on Tuesday?

We will present the editorial reaction as it comes in, but most of it has been negative.

“For months, President Bush has been promising an honest accounting of the situation in Iraq, a fresh look at the war strategy and a new plan for how to extricate the United States from the death spiral of the Iraqi civil war,” The New York Times opened. “The nation got none of that yesterday from the Congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. It got more excuses for delaying serious decisions for many more months, keeping the war going into 2008 and probably well beyond.

“It was just another of the broken promises and false claims of success that we?ve heard from Mr. Bush for years, from shock and awe, to bouquets of roses, to mission accomplished and, most recently, to a major escalation that was supposed to buy Iraqi leaders time to unify their nation. We hope Congress is not fooled by the silver stars, charts and rhetoric of yesterday?s hearing. Even if the so-called surge had created breathing room, Iraq?s sectarian leaders show neither the ability nor the intent to take advantage of it….

“The main success General Petraeus cited was in the previously all-but-lost Anbar Province where local sheiks, having decided that they hate Al Qaeda more than they hate the United States, have joined forces with American troops to combat insurgents. That development ? which may be ephemeral ? was not a goal of the surge and surprised American officials. To claim it as a success of the troop buildup is, to be generous, disingenuous.”

The Washington Post, a longtime war backer, expressed some doubts: “The reports by the general and the ambassador seem to presage a bid by President Bush to pursue the essential strategy of the surge — pacification of Baghdad and other population centers, combined with efforts to promote national political accord — in his remaining time in office. Gen. Petraeus alluded to one alternative that could win considerable congressional support — a shift of mission ‘to one that is strictly focused on transition and counterterroris’ — but dismissed it as ‘premature.’

“But the commander didn’t answer the most important question facing the president. ‘The fundamental source of the conflict in Iraq,’ he said, ‘is competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources.’ The surge was intended to give Iraqis the opportunity to resolve that competition peacefully — and by that measure it has failed. Mr. Crocker suggests that with more time it may yet succeed. Still, the question remains: If the political reconciliation the president expected is not possible in the near future, should the missions of American forces remain unchanged? That’s a question that the president must answer.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer: “President Bush was a strong and poignant leader in the days just after 9/11. But since then, he has used the attack to pursue objectives that had little or nothing to do with that Tuesday six years ago….

“Six years after 9/11, it is a shame that Bush’s misguided invasion of Iraq is upstaging the discussion the nation ought to have and the actions the nation’s leaders ought to be taking.”

The Orange County (Ca.) Register: “Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect much more, but given the buildup it was a little disappointing. However, it is true that Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker had little to talk about. Perhaps it is to their credit that they did not try to inflate the modest progress they see in Iraq into more than it is….

“More notable were the key questions not answered. Has the ongoing commitment in Iraq helped or hurt the global struggle against jihadist terrorists? How seriously has the U.S. military been degraded? What will be the long-term impact on ready reserves and the National Guard? Could the U.S. respond to an unexpected event elsewhere? Is there a chance the Iraqi government will get it together without a credible threat of U.S. withdrawal? What threat would an Iraq embroiled in civil war present to the United States itself? Is there a definition of success in Iraq that is more than star-spangled rhetoric?

“The recommendation Gen. Petraeus made, that the number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq be reduced back to 130,000 by next summer, would have had to be done whether or note there was evidence of success. We’ll see whether these desultory presentations firm up support for staying the course or push some wavering Republicans into the early-withdrawal camp.”

Sacramento Bee: “Petraeus and Crocker made it clear they see no need to recalibrate U.S. strategy in Iraq. So the choice remains: continue our current open-ended, ill-defined “stay the course” commitment in Iraq, with troop levels of 130,000 — or begin a responsible, gradual withdrawal in concert with a serious diplomatic offensive.”

Los Angeles Times: “America’s ‘war on terror,’ which enters its sixth year today, now seems destined to redefine our nation for a generation or more to come.

“The war goes on in Afghanistan, which has endured more than 100 suicide bombings this year, including a horrific attack Monday that killed at least 28 people. It goes on and on in Iraq, where Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker recommended to Congress on Monday that U.S. troops should stay, albeit in slightly declining numbers, until that fractious nation stabilizes. And it appears to be expanding to a third front, an undeclared but worsening conflict with Iran….

“No matter how much he insists otherwise, President Bush lacks that fundamental belief in American freedom. As a result, his war has not only subverted U.S. military interests but has undermined the liberties that make this a nation worthy of emulation.That is the tragic and true cost of these past six years.”

The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial backing Petraeus, attacked The New York Times: “In an editorial on Sunday, the New York Times, after saying that President Bush ‘isn’t looking for the truth, only for ways to confound the public,’ asserted that ‘General Petraeus has his own credibility problems.’ We read this as an elision from George Bush, the oft-accused liar on WMD and all the rest, to David Petraeus, also a liar merely for serving in the chain of command.

“With this editorial, the Times establishes that the party line is no longer just ‘Bush lied,’ but anyone who says anything good about Iraq or our effort there is also lying. As such, the Times enables and ratifies’s rhetoric as common usage for Democrats.”

Chicago Tribune: “But if some Americans don’t like Monday’s message, they needn’t pillory the messengers. Neither Petraeus nor Crocker has been a White House toady. And neither will have the luxury of abruptly rewriting his comments if the current trajectory of progress in Iraq reverses. For the rest of their careers, Petraeus and Crocker will be judged against the controversial words they speak in Washington this week.

“The week is young; both men will face more hard questions as it proceeds. But on Monday, Americans who want a scheduled drawdown of U.S. troops got part of what they desire. And Americans committed to ending Al Qaeda’s deadly sway in Iraq got the sense that David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker will settle for nothing less than that.”

Newsday (Melville, N.Y.): “Crocker said the administration’s objectives in Iraq – a stable and democratic nation – could still be met. But he largely ignored the abysmal record of the current Iraqi government in meeting almost any of the benchmarks established to measure political progress. So his statement deserves to be examined skeptically, given the past four years of bitter experience. We’ve been told before that we are near a turning point.

“Petraeus’ message was that any withdrawal of troops must be done carefully and slowly, without sacrificing the gains that have been made. That’s defensible. But it demands an answer to how long U.S. troops must stay – years or decades? – and what it will cost in lives and money.”

The Guardian (London): “It was not Petraeus the professional soldier we were seeing yesterday, but Petraeus the political salesman, and his pitch – give us more time and the plan for regaining stability will work – is no longer credible.”

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