Was Dave Petraeus really Bill Murray in Groundhog Day?
This past week saw General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker come back to Capitol Hill for many more hours of grilling and stalling -- for what's now irrefutably clear is that "stay the course" really means not the mission in Iraq so much as the course until January 20, 2009 when Bush can leave the baby of Iraq on the doorstep of his successor.
Military men understand what a "front" is. Last September and now again in April, Petraeus served as a front man in Congress for a president who has run out of credibility and is now running out of time to be vindicated in Iraq. But if history is written the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce, as Marx concluded, the sequel this past week was farcical. For it's now clear that "surge," which means a quick increase before a return to normalcy, is really an "escalation" since there's no intention of returning back to lower troop numbers. So any media who now keeps using the word "surge" are in effect an extension of the White House press office.
Our policy is also truly farcical since it's now obvious that this is a war in search of a rationale. Now that America has spent $600 billion (or up to $3 trillion projected forward) to topple, arrest and execute Saddam -- surely the most expensive apprehension in world history, by a lot -- two new justifications keep coming up in the hearings. Hence the 105 times Iran was mentioned and 83 times al Qaeda was in the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Of course, these new enemies weren't actors in Iraq until our invasion created them. Yossarian would understand such circular reasoning.
While much has been thoughtfully written about their testimonies, I have two take-aways.
First, every time President Bush resorts to noble abstractions to camouflage his failed policies -- Liberty! Democracy! -- and every time Petraeus resorted to selective, bloodless charts with arrows always pointed in a happy-face direction, the true horror of this war is far more honestly depicted in two recent works of art.
Phil Donahue's new documentary, Body of War, shows the achingly painful impact on one soldier and his family when he comes home paralyzed -- and when, for example, his mother on camera has to help him urinate, now that his wife has left him. And George Packer's stunning off-Broadway play Betrayed dramatizes how America has exploited and then dumped local interpreters who are now targeted as traitors by various militias.
Second, as the Obama and Clinton campaigns inevitably continue their sniping and positioning, the hearings showed how similar, almost identical, the two now are on this great issue...certainly as contrasted with John McCain. Their questions were cut from the same cloth -- by what measures can we conclude that we've failed or conclude that we can exit? At the same time, McCain again showed himself to be like Bush, a force-first militarist who arrives at conclusions and then looks for "facts." Again, it was more farce than substance when his questions to Petraeus about al Qaeda elicited the undesired answer that its threat was diminishing, which didn't stop McCain from prattling on about what a huge threat it was.
So those campaign hotheads and bloggers who regard the rival Democratic candidate as either a waif or a liar should get a grip and appreciate the consequences of their sanctimony for the Fall contest.
Who better to addresses these topics on Air America's weekly 7 Days in America than Gen. Wesley Clark, a four star general and former NATO commander who won a war in Europe and is a major surrogate for the candidacy of Hillary Clinton? (Previously we had Obama surrogate Tom Daschle.)
As the excerpts below hint at and the audio shows, headliner Clark was as concise and convincing as anyone I've heard on both Iraq and the primary presidential contest. (Listen here.) While defending Petraeus as an honorable soldier doing his job in the chain of command, Clark was especially withering on why we should not expand the war to include Iran - and how there was no exit plan on Day One of this war and still none now on Day 2150.
The only realistic exit now is the exit of a Republican administration that cannot admit or correct its failures. That takes a new Democratic President in 2009 -- and a new Democratic Vice-President. Why not Clark?
For months I've thought that his experience, clarity, vision and conviction on Iraq would make him an ideal #2 on either Obama's or Clinton's ticket. Then I read this week in New York Magazine a fun piece by West Wing screenwriter Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. who imagines that the nomination process goes all the way to Denver with Obama prevailing but only when he deflates the Clinton forces by choosing their favorite general, Wes Clark, as his running mate.
Is Clark our Petraeus?
EXCERPTS TO APRIL 12th 7 DAYS IN AMERICA, W/ WES CLARK, HUFFINGTON, REAGAN & GREEN
Listen to the complete show here.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: On why McCain is so befuddled about Iran and Sunnis. "I think he's under an enormous amount of stress. He's tired and he hasn't really focused on it." GREEN: "He hasn't focused on it? This is his entire campaign!" CLARK: "I know, but he's not like Hillary. She really does policy. She studies things, facts, arguments and analysis. They stick to her brain cells. John McCain is more of a round peg, round hole, square peg, square hole kind of a guy. He doesn't delve too deeply into things."
CLARK: On the developing Bush-McCain argument that the United States could be justified in attacking Iran because its IED's are killing Americans. "Iran is a fact of life. Long after Americans leave there will be Iranians there. What I've found is that when you bomb people they generally don't like it. And if you kill people their relatives hate you. We've already got problems with Iran, but Iran is the most pro-US, pro-western region country in the region."
CLARK: On what the Democratic 44th President says or does when right-wingers say he/she surrendered in Iraq on the brink of victory. "That's exactly what's going to happen. You have two choices if you are the Democratic President. If you don't start to withdraw pretty soon within 6 months you will be challenged and it will become, 'Hillary's War' and she has no exit strategy. We've heard this before. Isn't this the same thing that happened to the Balkans? And if you start to pull back forces and if there's any violence, and of course there's going to be violence, then you are going to be blamed for the violence. This is the reality. Harry Truman was blamed for losing China!"
CLARK: On the New York Magazine article that fantasized that Obama wins the nomination only when he choses Wesley Clark to be his Vice President. "I wanted to run myself in this election cycle and I couldn't. I couldn't connect the dots on how I was going to win for a lot of different reasons. I decided that if I couldn't run, my best public service was to try to help the American people choose the right candidate and the right President."
HUFFINGTON: "Iran is the country who has helped with the cease fire between the government and the Mahdi army. The problem we are having here is we are defending a government in Iraq that is very friendly with Iran."
RON REAGAN: "It is possible for even progressives like me to feel somewhat sorry for General Petraeus. This is a man who was following orders. This is a man who has had a terrible mess dumped in his lap and he's trying to complete a mission which I suspect he doesn't really believe in. But, how many times can we sit through this movie? The administration that took us into Iraq and the three remaining candidates do not intend to withdraw all our troops from Iraq."
HUFFINGTON: On answering critics of Obama that he could be turned into another Illinoisian, Adlai Stevenson, in a general election, an eloquent intellectual who's soft on defense. "I think it's an incredible paradox that the people who are considered strong on national defense are the people who choose to take us to disastrous wars and stay there at the tremendous cost of our men and women. Democrats have decided to deal with it by basically avoiding national security and focusing on the economy. I think this is just rubbish. Obama can prove unequivocally that he's going to keep America safer than John McCain would provided he says these things with conviction and boldness and continues to let McCain make these mistakes that he is making that will soon undermine his own reputation."