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Alexander Cockburn
Alexander Cockburn
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The General Came to Washington

Comment

Into the witness chair in the Senate chamber marched Gen. David Petraeus, the blaze of ribbons on his chest suggesting actual combat experience a bit longer than the modest four years his record discloses. He was once shot in he chest, it's true, but that was in a military exercise in the United States when a soldier's gun went off by accident.

Somewhat mechanically, the general read through testimony freshly vetted and rewritten by Vice President Dick Cheney, a man well aware that despite the utter absence of any supportive evidence and owing much to his own untiring falsehoods on the matter, 33 percent of all Americans (including 40 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats) believe Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 al Qaeda attacks.

Hence Petraeus' testimony had a reference in almost every paragraph to al Qaeda terror groups in Iraq, even though prudent estimates put total membership there at 850, thus furnishing some 5 percent of the Sunni resistance.

Speaking glowingly of his surge, the general marched the senators through graphs and flow charts, whose soaring curves and bars spelled out Order and Progress, just like the Brazilian national flag.

In fact, it's hard to demonstrate there's really been a surge. Right now the United States is at a high point, with 162,000 troops in Iraq. But that's not far above the 160,000 deployment level at the end of 2005. Moreover, there's a steady decline in the Coalition of the Willing, which now stands at 11,500, falling at an average of 575 a month.

Petraeus loosed his volleys of bogus numbers, and the senatorial candidates for presidential nomination returned fire in carefully prepared but equally meretricious salvoes. There were five such candidates on display: Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and the Republican John McCain.

This doesn't count Petraeus himself who, according to Patrick Cockburn's story in Thursday's (Sept. 13) Independent, disclosed his own presidential ambitions to an Iraqi official two years ago, apparently confiding that a 2008 run would be premature. He probably hopes he'll be running against President Clinton in 2012.

Candidate Clinton whacked presumptive candidate Petraeus with Coleridge's definition of dramatic truth.

To believe his report, she said, would require "the willing suspension of disbelief," a line which duly made its way to front †pages, as did Candidate Obama's theatrical question, "At what point do we say, Enough?"

Clinton's problem is that she very willingly suspended disbelief in 2002. When it came time to deliver her Senate speech in support of the war, she reiterated some of the most outlandish claims made by Cheney, saying Saddam Hussein had rebuilt his chemical and biological weapons program; that he had improved his long-range missile capability; that he was reconstituting his nuclear weapons program, and that he was giving aid and comfort to al Qaeda. The only other Democratic senator to make all four of these claims in his floor speech was Joe Lieberman. He didn't go as far as Senator Hillary, putting conditions on some of the claims. Clinton offered no conditionality.

Later, as the winds of opinion changed, Clinton claimed — and continues to do so to this day — that hers was a vote not for war but for negotiation. In fact, the record shows that only hours after the war-authorization vote, she voted against the Democratic resolution that would have required Bush to seek a diplomatic solution before launching the war.

Obama, lagging behind Clinton in the polls, rushed to Iowa on Wednesday (Sept. 12) to savage his prime rival. "Despite — or perhaps because of — how much experience they had in Washington, too many politicians feared looking weak and failed to ask hard questions. I opposed this war from the beginning. I opposed the war in 2002, I opposed it in 2003, I opposed it in 2004, I opposed it in 2005," Obama declared.

Realists in military circles reckon the overall situation in Iraq is worsening, from the point of view of the U.S.; by next spring, as one puts it, "the active-duty Army and Marine Corps will start to break under the current load." Forces will decline unless Bush orders a real surge next year in involuntarily mobilized reservists. He won't do that

The war is lost, but like many a lost war, it will last a very long time. Candidate Petraeus may well have the chance in 2012 to tax President Clinton about the "stalemate in Iraq."

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.



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