The Run-Up to the Petraeus Showdown

Posted: Aug 29, 2007 12:01 AM
The Run-Up to the Petraeus Showdown

A flood of newly-issued war reports, speeches and international feuds are beginning to set the stage for an upcoming showdown between anti-war senators and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus this September.

The latest National Intelligence Estimate, which is presumed to closely mirror the forthcoming testimony Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker will deliver to Congress, warned that support for U.S. troops to leave Iraq could increase violence in the region.

Released August 23, the NIE reported “perceptions that the Coalition is withdrawing probably will encourage factions anticipating a power vacuum to seek local security solutions that could intensify sectarian violence and intra-sectarian competition….Iraq’s neighbors will continue to focus on improving their leverage in Iraq in anticipation of a Coalition drawdown.”

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confirmed the NIE’s judgment nearly word for word in a Tuesday news conference in Tehran.

“The political power of the occupiers is collapsing rapidly. Soon, we will see a huge power vacuum in the region. Of course, we are prepared to fill the gap, with the help of neighbors and regional friends like Saudi Arabia, and with the help of the Iraqi nation,” Ahmadinejad said.

Later that day, President Bush spoke at the American Legion convention in Reno, Nevada. He addressed Ahmadinejad’s threat directly.

Bush said if Americans were forced out of the Middle East, “extremists of all strains would be emboldened by the knowledge that they forced America to retreat. Terrorists could have more safe havens to conduct attacks on Americans and our friends and allies. Iran could conclude we were weak—and could not stop them from getting nuclear weapons. And once Iran has nuclear weapons, it would set off a nuclear arms race in the region.”

“The Iranian regime must halt” their threats against the West, President Bush said. “And until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops. I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities.”

Bush delivered another major speech on August 22 that emphasized the importance of stabilizing the fledgling democracy in Iraq. He spoke at a convention for Veterans of Foreign Wars and compared the Iraqi conflict to ideological struggles for democracy against Japanese militarists and communists in Korea and Vietnam.

“Then, as now, people argued the real problem was America’s presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end,” President Bush said of Vietnam. “One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps’ and ‘killing fields.’”

After the NIE’s release, most media outlets focused on the NIE’s admission that “political reconciliation in Iraq remains elusive” and that “the Iraqi government will become more precarious over the next six to twelve months.”

Debate over the likelihood of political victory in Iraq continued when Democratic senators Hillary Clinton (N.Y) and Carl Levin (Mich.) urged the Iraqi parliament to oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, citing his failure to swiftly bring together a unified government. This media cycle continued when Maliki told his critics in Monday press conference: "There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin. They should come to their senses.”

Attention over this international dispute overshadowed the last key judgment contained in the report, which read: “We assess that changing the mission of Coalition forces from a primarily counterinsurgency and stabilization role to a primary combat support role for Iraqi forces and counterterrorist operations to prevent AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] from establishing a safe haven would erode security gains achieved thus far.”

Clinton, who is campaigning for the Democratic nomination for President, has repeatedly said that if she is elected in 2008 she will terminate U.S. combat missions in Iraq. Instead, she would direct U.S. troops to assist and train Iraqi forces, just as the NIE cautioned against.

“Recent security improvements in Iraq, including success against AQI, have depended significantly on the close synchronization of conventional counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations,” the NIE reported. “A change in mission that interrupts that synchronization would place security improvements at risk.”

The information contained in the 10-page NIE summary represents the “best collective assessment of security and political conditions in Iraq today and as likely to unfold during the next six to 12 months.” Its production was requested by White House Iraq Coordinator Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute and updates a NIE released in January 2007. The August NIE focuses strictly on progress made since President Bush ordered a surge of 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq in his January State of the Union speech.

The updated report stated there has been “measurable but uneven improvements in Iraq’s security situation” since the surge has been enacted.

In addition to the NIE that was requested by Lute, several other Iraq reports have been produced recently by the Bush Administration as a condition of various military spending bills passed by the Democratic Congress.

Below is a listing of relevant speeches and reports that have been released this summer related to the Iraq war.

June 7: “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” a quarterly report submitted to Congress, as required by the “Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2007.”

July 12: Initial Benchmark Assessment Report, as required by the “U.S. Troops Readiness Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007.”

August 21: Declassified release of a June 2005 Summary of the Office of Inspector General Report on CIA Accountability, as required by “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.”

August 22: President Bush speaks at the Veterans of Foreign War National Convention in Kansas City, Missouri.

August 23: National Intelligence Estimate, “Prospects of Iraq’s Stability; Some Security Progress but Political Reconciliation Remains Elusive,” as requested by White House Iraq Coordinator Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute to update the January 2007 NIE, “Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead.”

August 28: President Bush speaks to the American Legion Convention in Reno, Nevada.

September 4: Government Accountability Office to release a 70-page report about the prospects for political reconciliation. House will hold hearing on report (date TBA).

Before September 15, date TBA: Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker will testify in open and closed sessions before Congress about the progress being made in Iraq. President Bush will submit his own written report to Congress that will update the July 12 benchmark report.