Talking Surge (and Jogging) with General Petraeus

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Spencer Ackerman got to join General David Petraeus on his morning exercise routine recently, and the results give us some clue as to what Petraeus will say before Congress next week.

“There are some encouraging signs,” [Petraeus] said cautiously. “It’s still pretty early, but sectarian violence and murders are down [in Baghdad], and that’s hugely important. It’s about [stopping] sectarian violence.” He qualified his statement. “There are still, obviously, huge car bombs, since al-Qaeda is trying to reignite sectarian violence.”

So the results of the surge are a decidedly mixed bag. The security is getting mildly better (very much in question) but the politics of Iraq have not improved. In fact, they’re worse than they were a year ago. We may be winning on some of the details, but we’re still losing on the big picture. Why continue the occupation?

Politics in the country was moving slowly, [Petraeus] conceded, but he was impressed with the performance of the Iraqi Army in Baghdad. I wasn’t exactly sure what the connection was. Could a competent Army really convince Sunnis to accept minority status, or stop Shiites from hoarding power? But nothing is a non sequitur to Petraeus. Instead, the strategy he describes is one where each small contingency exerts an ephemeral but real influence on every seemingly unrelated aspect of the war.

It appears the surge meant something very different to General Petraeus than it did to the rest of America. To everyone here stateside, the surge in troops was a temporary effort to give Iraqi politicians the space and stability they needed to achieve some kind of reconciliation. To Petraeus, it was a chance to implement his strategy and re-fight the war.

And you know what’s funny? Inklings of this were reported in February. I spotted a Newsweek story by Michael Hirsh and wrote a blog entitled “Petraeus is Engaged in a Giant ‘Do-Over'” on 02/23/07. Maybe we should have all raised a bigger fuss.

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