Short Shelf-Life for Petraeus's Plan

This morning's headline, that Bush will back the plan by Gen. David Petraeus to remove the surge of 30,000 troops from Iraq next summer, gave me a good out-loud laugh as I bent down in my pajamas to pick up the newspaper from the lawn this morning.

I don't knock Petraeus, and no one should. A new CBS/New York Times poll shows the public trusts military commanders (68 percent) far more than President Bush (5 percent!) or the Congress (21 percent) to resolve the Iraq war. And MoveOn.org should take a long look at its tactics and strategy while it works to end the war — the "Betray Us" ad is more than regrettable.

But from the sound of Republicans, including loyalists like Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), the shelf-life of the Petraeus plan isn't likely to last until next summer. The testimony Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker gave to the Congress these last two days wasn't reassuring, definitive or uplifting. Yes, they see seeds of hope in local efforts at political reconciliation that have not yet been legislated by the Iraqi parliament. But they basically asked for expectations and standards for success to be lowered since, well, those expectations and standards can't be met. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) said Americans deserve a clearer sense of where "there is light at the end of the tunnel," but Petraeus and Crocker gave none. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) asked if we are safer, and Petraeus said, "I don't know, actually." Not only did they acknowledge that the benchmarks the surge was intended for haven't been met, but they could not provide new benchmarks for success or failure that would determine our future commitment. My favorite line was Crocker's to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): "My level of confidence is under control."

So tomorrow Bush will tell us the good news: that he will implement Petraeus's plan to draw down to pre-surge levels next summer. Only Petraeus made clear he doesn't want that in legislation, in case things change on the ground. Got that?


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