"Are we fixed yet?"
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton's question -- asked after Gen. David Petraeus' microphone failed to work -- is something of a metaphor both for Washington and Baghdad.
That microphone failure at the start of Petraeus' dramatic congressional testimony is an ironic reminder.
If it can go wrong, it will. Murphy's Law affects everything, but Gen. Murphy rules warfare. War is the effort where everything goes wrong, and the winner's art is to ultimately be less wrong than the loser. France's Georges Clemenceau provided a more elegant rendering: War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory. It's why perseverance and will are the traits of victors. Murphy's Law also rules well-prepared and long-anticipated congressional testimony.
But from now on, every mid-level Iraqi ministry official is going to grin when a U.S. diplomat or reporter asks him how his reconstruction and maintenance operations are going. The sharp-tongued deputy will say, "Our parliament's microphones work."
And given the often-bitter congressional critique of the Iraqi government's various failures and faults, the wisecrack is well-deserved.
With their testimony, Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are trying to get it fixed -- help repair and prepare America's politics.
In an article published by The Weekly Standard on July 25, 2005, I wrote: "Al-Qaida's jihadists plotted a multigenerational war. That means we must fight a multi-administration war, which means bridging the whipsaw of the U.S. political cycle. ... The Bush administration has not prepared the nation for that -- at least not in any focused manner. And that omission constitutes negligence. However, Bush critics who advocate withdrawal are even more negligent, for withdrawal without ensuring Iraqi stability is a self-inflicted defeat leading to extremely dire consequences. "
With the Petraeus-Crocker testimony, the Bush administration has finally begun to build that political bridge, albeit in an awkward, belated manner. The administration's Democratic opponents deserve no credit, however. These contemporary practitioners of the paranoid style in American politics have chosen angry theatrics and smear over common sense.
The next six to 12 months will determine if Petraeus and Crocker succeeded. If they do succeed, it will benefit both the Iraqi and American people, and ultimately benefit everyone on the planet who wants a more peaceful and prosperous 21st century.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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