Give it a Couple of Months

Mike Crowley reports on a mystery lunch he attended yesterday with Republican Senator X:

On Iraq, this senator said he expects that, come September and the Petraeus-Crocker report, the White House will announce "a transition to a new approach." He thinks that will involve a non-trivial drawdown of troops, and a returned emphasis to training Iraqi forces, though he wasn't too clear beyond that. He also said such a shift would head off any possible collapse in congressional GOP support for the war.

I say: Eh. I feel like I've heard about this imminent drawdown before. My sense is that it was going to be executed around mid-2004 in order to shore up the GOP position before the fall elections. And, sure, their position is worse now than it was then. But Bush was actually on the ballot. Kevin Drum seems to be a believer on the somewhat odd grounds that "Petraeus and Crocker plainly won't be able to report any political progress in Iraq. After all, there hasn't been any yet, and the Iraqi parliament is on vacation for the next month. What's more, even on the military front Petraeus will be unable to claim anything but the slimmest progress."

That seems clearly wrong to me. The genius thing about the facts is that they can support almost anything. You can say. "We've seen exciting signs of progress in Iraq. Describe one tactical military success, describe another, do so in great detail, here's a third, etc. Follow Pollack and O'Hanlon in discussing morale and subject factors. Describe another tactical military success in some detail. Talk about your hopes and dreams for the future. This part goes on and on for pages. On the political front, progress has been more limited, but there are some signs of progress and I'm going to list two of them right now." Bam! Optimistic report, why do you hate America? Or, you could look at the same facts and dwell on the ways in which tactical military successes are irrelevant and the political situation is worse than ever. So far, every time the Bush administration has reported on Iraq it's been with relentlessly upbeat spin and I see no reason to think that'll change.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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