On September 11 George Bush contrived with Democratic assistance to send David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker to tell Congress how the Iraq war is going.
Bush wanted the date not because he thought it would be, in Lincoln's words, an altogether fitting and proper way to honor the fallen, but because he thought it a clever way to reinforce a lie he has been caught in many times -- that his war was an answer to that attack.
While Petraeus and Crocker pitched Congress, General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, used a Pentagon memorial service to peddle the same line: we avenge the innocent by waging war in a country unconnected to their tragedy. It's all in keeping with a long held administration belief that it is unpatriotic for anyone else to politicize 9/11.
Petraeus, Crocker and Pace took a page from Karl Rove's White House Iraq Group playbook: Craft sentences that imply more than they say. Deliver them with conviction. When found out, reveal the artful parsing that proves you never said what everyone heard.
It always worked better than it should. We believed Saddam was behind 9/11; that he had weapons of mass destruction; that his oil would pay for Bush's war; that Iraq wanted to be just like us; that the mission was accomplished, resistance in its last throes.
To make it work Bush counts on us not to read any more than he does. Petraeus and Crocker's tales of progress contradicted the published findings of military and intelligence professionals across the administration and in Congress:
A 2006 National Intelligence Estimate, a report of the consensus views of all intelligence agencies, said flatly that the Iraq War undermines the war on terror. It warned that the worst threat we now face is from "dispersed, self radicalizing" terror cells that are almost impossible to engage, let alone defeat, in pitched battles.
A report of the non partisan Government Accountability Office gave Iraq passing grades on just 3 of 18 'benchmarks'. General Petraeus awarded passing grades on 9, a hell of a curve by any standard. GAO staff leaked their report early to ensure that it and not some watered down facsimile got to the public.
A 14 member mission led by Retired General James Jones, former head of NATO, unanimously concluded that Iraqi's security forces are a disaster. When polled, a substantial majority of Iraqis voice their agreement.
Don't trust anything our government says? Check out the official Iraqi tabulations of sectarian killings, according to which Petraeus' claim of a 55% drop is utterly false.
Petraeus touted success in Baghdad and Anbar Province. In Baghdad, Shiites simply drove Sunnis out. If one side finishes the other off, casualty rates drop but it's not what you or I mean by progress.
In Anbar, locals came together to snuff out a home grown strain of Al Qaeda that sprouted up after we invaded. It would appear its prospects of finding safe haven in Iraq are dimmer than Bush lets on. This isn't a small point.
Bush says early withdrawal will mean a bloodbath. (If only he'd thought this much about casualties before going in.) Baghdad and Anbar suggest hanging around forever isn't the best way to avoid one.
What Baghdad shows is how well and how quickly a partition of Iraq might work. Anbar proves Al Qaeda isn't the worst threat to Iraq, which doesn't need 100,000 American troops to deal with it. In a reasoned and informed debate these two "success stories" would be seen for what they are-- two more arguments for getting out.
On Thursday Bush asked support for "General Petraeus's strategy." He seemed to promise troop cuts but really said only that with luck the 'surge' might end by July, 2008. After that, 130,000 troops -- Rumsfeld's original force -- will fight on into someone else's presidency.
In the Senate, John Warner asked Petraeus if the war is making America safer. Petraeus squirmed, as if haunted by the ghost of Colin Powell at the UN. Petraeus generally ducked big questions, confining himself when he could to the merely tactical. He hopes we'll remember the strategy as Bush's.
Just before the 2004 election, Petraeus wrote a Washington Post piece informing voters that things in Iraq were really turning around. His optimism then puts his testimony now in context. Maybe things were going even better then -- or maybe his willingness to carry political water for Bush is what got him his present job.
The administration wouldn't feel it had wrung all the propaganda potential from the 9/11 anniversary without at least one attack on the war's critics. Actually there were many but the one that took the spotlight was the attack on MoveOn.org.
MoveOn's play on Petraeus' name -- general betray us -- was puerile. When will liberals learn how to talk to people not already in agreement with them? Still, if Americans read more they'd know MoveOn got its facts right. Petraeus didn't even try. It may not be treason to lie about a war, but the real patriot is almost always the one telling the truth.
This is Petraeus' first combat. He led the failed effort to train Iraqi security forces. He got the top job due to his one proven skill, talking to Congressmen. Today he's a Republican kitchen saint but when the truth catches up with him he'll look like George Tenet, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and everyone else who disgraced themselves lying for Bush.
Before Bush's speech, a leader of our new Anbar coalition was murdered. Worse yet, Iraqi Kurds, till now our only true allies in country, undercut the vital effort to divide Iraq's oil revenues among its three major factions. This they did by cutting their own deal with Hunt Oil of Texas.
Hunt's president, Ray Hunt is a close Bush ally and member of his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Did Bush green-light this prolonging of Iraq's chaos while asking our troops to prolong their sacrifice? If he did he betrayed his alleged mission and our troops and we need to know it.
Our democracy grows weak. Before the war Bush had to hide findings of government experts showing Iraq's nuclear program was peaceful. Now government hides reports in plain sight of a public that can't be bothered to read them.
In New York last week, families of the dead wept as the names were read aloud. At night, a "tribute in light" shot columns from 44 search lights up into the night from Ground Zero. The effect is of a ghostly specter of the twin towers. People are said to find it comforting. Better to honor our democracy and our dead with the truth.