The administration had already run through a dozen raisons d'etre for the war. The latest -- we're helping the tribes defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq; we're helping promote reconciliation in Baghdad, or a devolution of authority to the provinces, or both; we're nation-building toward a soft partition; we're working toward limiting the civil war when we leave even though we're arming the rival factions because of our immediate tactical needs; we're buying time for the Maliki government to settle the civil strife it's fomenting; we're fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq so we don't have to fight it here and because our Iraqi occupation doesn't leave us with a large enough force to do anything about the real al-Qaeda in Pakistan -- don't really pack much of a punch.
In our own Civil War, the moral urgency of the Union cause expanded during the conflict, which began as a war to preserve the Union and concluded not only as that but also as a war to abolish slavery and renew democracy. In Iraq, our cause has grown smaller and murkier with each passing month. In his Senate testimony Tuesday, Petraeus was so immersed in explicating ephemera that when old John Warner suddenly asked him if keeping the war going really made America safer, Petraeus could do no better than say, "Sir, I don't know, actually."
Could the contradictions be exposed more clearly?
By the way, some may say it's not Patraeus' job to worry about whether the war in Iraq is actually making us safer. Nonsense. First of all, if the man hasn't considered it, he isn't as smart as everyone thinks he is. Second, if it's not his job to think about it, he's certainly being put out as a proxy for the Bush administration, in which case he ought to have an argument for the central question regarding the war. That the question is above his pay grade as they say, is irrelevant now that he's become the face of the administration on the war.