"Calculus, Not Arithmetic"

Petraeusmarkwilsongetty

I've been watching the hearings in bed this morning. Petraeus and Crocker strike me as making every effort to be intellectually honest, and their credibility is all the greater for it. They certainly appear more circumspect about Iraq than some of their Republican interlocutors (Inhofe, predictably, is a parody of knee-jerkism and Lindsey Graham seems much more insistent on the surge's success than Petraeus). He's candid about turning Baghdad into a warren of sectarian mini-ghettoes guarded by massive internal walls, about Iran's large gains in influence whatever happens, about a recent spike in violence. This is the money quote, it seems to me:

The strategic considerations include recognition that: the strain on the U.S. military, especially on its ground forces, has been considerable; a number of the security challenges inside Iraq are also related to significant regional and global threats; a failed state in Iraq would pose serious consequences for the greater fight against Al Qaida, for regional stability, for the already existing humanitarian crisis in Iraq, and for the efforts to counter malign Iranian influence.

After weighing these factors, I recommended to my chain of command that we continue the drawdown in the surge to the combat forces and that upon the withdrawal of the last surge brigade combat team in July, we undertake a 45-day period of consolidation and evaluation. At the end of that period, we will commence a process of assessment to examine the conditions on the ground and over time determine when we can make recommendations for further reductions. This process will be continuous, with recommendations for further reductions made as conditions permit.

This approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable, however it does provide the flexibility those of us on the ground need to preserve the still-fragile security gains our troopers have fought so far and sacrifice so much to achieve.

It's all he can do at this point, isn't it, to keep this "fragile and reversible" security progress from unraveling. Petraeus cannot be held responsible for the political will to commit to Iraq for a generation, the only time-line that makes much sense if this is to achieve anything faintly resembling a decent outcome in line with the original war-goals. So he hangs in there; along with the troops; while the kind of Iraqi political progress that alone can get us out of there with minimal damage occurs at a glacial and always reversible pace.

(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty.)