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Petraeus' Call for a Pause is Really Just "Stay the Course 2.0"


Have you heard the news? "The Surge" is about to end. The next phase of our 100 Year War is "The Pause." Surge, Pause... Surge, Pause... We can't pull out! It's all starting to sound a bit sexual, isn't it? But the American people are the ones getting screwed.

According to the New York Times, when General Petraeus testifies in front of Congress this week, he's going to recommend that come July there should be a pause in troop withdrawals. By then, the nearly 20,000 troops still devoted to the "surge" will have returned home, leaving roughly 140,000 still in Iraq. In other words, the Bush administration is going to leave office with around the same troop levels in Iraq as we've had over the past five years.

So lest Congress get any crazy ideas about honoring the wishes of the majority of Americans and start bringing the rest of our troops home, the administration is going to run out the clock hiding behind the idea of a "pause."

I put it in quotes because what they're proposing isn't actually a pause -- in fact, it's precisely the opposite of a pause. What they really mean is a continuation. But since "stay the course" was 12 slogans ago, they had to come up with a new one.

This is standard operating procedure for the Bush administration: every time they look at the events on the ground in Iraq, instead of responding with a smart policy, they respond with a catchy new slogan. Usually an utterly misleading catchy slogan.

This conflation -- and often confusion -- of reality and rhetoric is the true Bush doctrine.

Just take a look back at what we've had so far. First there was "Gathering Threat." Then "Axis of Evil." And then, in order:

"Slam Dunk"

"Shock and Awe"

"Mission Accomplished"

"Last Throes"

"Adapt to Win"

"Stay the Course"

"New Way Forward"

And then "The "Surge." And now "The "Pause."

Which is just "Stay the Course 2.0".

But we all know that during The Pause many things won't be pausing. Like the $3 billion a week this war is costing. And the incredible strain it is putting on our military, which was borne out by Army vice chief of staff Richard A. Cody when he told Congress last week that "lengthy and repeated deployments with insufficient recovery time have placed incredible stress on our soldiers and our families, testing the resolve of our all-volunteer force like never before."

Another thing that won't be pausing is the fact that, according to an Army study, "27 percent of noncommissioned officers -- a critically important group -- on their third or fourth tour exhibited symptoms commonly referred to as post-traumatic stress disorders."

Also not pausing: the continued deterioration of conditions in Afghanistan. Things have gotten so bad in what should have been the "central front in the war on terror," President Bush was forced to promise NATO leaders last week that he would commit to sending additional troops there. Though it's not clear where he's going to get them from. Perhaps another sweet contract for the Blackwater Gang is in the offing.

And, of course, there will be no pause in the way the administration uses the shine of Gen. Petraeus' stars to bedazzle -- and bamboozle -- Congress. There are actually several layers of military command above Petraeus that Bush could use to sell The Pause. But the reason he doesn't is simple: unlike Petraeus, they don't agree with him.

As Alex Koppelman notes in Salon:

"Petraeus agrees with current administration thinking, whereas commanders above him do not. Adm. William Fallon, who announced his early retirement from the military, including his position as head of U.S. Central Command, earlier this month, was one of those who was reportedly arguing against Petraeus, and was concerned about the damage the war is doing to the military."

Or, at Matt Yglesias put it:

"Bush has, from the beginning, always listened to people who tell him what he wants to hear -- starting a war with Iraq is a great idea, continuing a war with Iraq is a great idea. If Petraeus told Bush tomorrow that he should admit failure and open up a regional dialogue on how best to manage an American withdrawal from Iraq, suddenly his privileged position would be gone."

What we're not likely to hear a lot about this week is the very messy political situation in Iraq, the cleaning up of which was the entire purpose of The Surge in the first place, and thus the primary metric of success on which it should be judged.

Nor will we get it from John McCain, who loves The Surge -- and will no doubt be equally turned on by The Pause -- but who appears to be utterly clueless about the political realities shaping Iraq.

On Friday, Barack Obama raised what is ultimately the key point about Iraq: "We still don't have a good answer to the question posed by Sen. (John) Warner the last time Gen. Petraeus appeared: How has this effort in Iraq made us safer and how do we expect it will make us safer in the long run?"

I have a feeling there is going to be a long, long pause before any of us get an answer to that.

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