Five months ago Petraeus was guaranteeing to wavering Republicans that they'd see progress in August, precisely the month when the PR campaign was scheduled to go into high gear. Today he's issuing dire warnings about al-Qaeda hegemony and nine-dollar gas if we leave, circulating bio pages that let his staff know whether they're dealing with friend or foe among visiting congress members, and insisting repeatedly that violence is down in classified briefings where he doesn't have to publicly defend his figures.
If these don't sound like the actions of an honest broker to you, they don't to me either. They sound like elements of a campaign with one overriding purpose: to convince politicians and opinion makers that we're making progress in Iraq regardless of whether we are or not. We're only seeing the results of Petraeus's PR blitzkrieg now, but it's obviously been in the works for months and it's been a smashing success. The general has profoundly outplayed the amateurs on their home turf.
I don't know if I see the dark hand of Petraeus in all of this, but it's clear that there's been a non-stop PR campaign by the Bush administration and the Pentagon to convince people that the surge is succeeding, and that it's completely irrelevant whether it is or not. Despite the fact that the Pentagon won't release the numbers that support their contention that violence is down, and that evidence indicates that they're gaming the numbers that they do have, that independent analysis of figures from Iraq indicate that where violence is down it's only only in minor respects and to a minor degree and that otherwise violence is still increasing, there still seems to be a general shift in the media coverage, despite the fact that reporters can't independently verify the claims being made by the military and pro-war pundits and politicians. Adam's more skeptical than I am, but I think this shift is what is leading to stories like this one:
Saying the coming weeks will be "one of the last opportunities" to alter the course of the war, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he is now willing to compromise with Republicans to find ways to limit troop deployments in Iraq.
Reid acknowledged that his previous firm demand for a spring withdrawal deadline had become an obstacle for a small but growing number of Republicans who have said they want to end the war but have been unwilling to set a timeline.
"I don't think we have to think that our way is the only way," Reid said of specific dates during an interview in his office here. "I'm not saying, 'Republicans, do what we want to do.' Just give me something that you think you would like to do, that accomplishes some or all of what I want to do."
Why the shift now, except for the reason that the September progress report is due soon and Reid and others anticipate that this will give enough cover to Republicans to force Democrats to compromise on anti-war efforts?
This is extraordinarily frustrating. Pro-war pundits, thanks to their disproportionate influence over the media, have managed to sell the view that dubious and minor achievements ostensibly resulting from the surge are signs that we are now making general progress in Iraq, and despite the best efforts of bloggers like Glenn Greenwald to refute them, they have largely succeeded. I've seen no recent opinion polls indicating any change in American opinion, but does that even matter? If public opinion were key, we'd already be withdrawing from Iraq. The only thing that's important is that the pundits convince other pundits and politicians that the war is turning around and that politicians who don't get in line with supporting it are vulnerable to attacks of failing to support the troops. And they seem to be succeeding, despite all their prior and continuing wrongness about the war.
I do not believe for an instant that we are going to be in Iraq another decade just because these pundits have managed to push back against war opponents successfully. Mark my words, drawdown from Iraq is inevitable in the very near future (even the military admits as much) and reality in Iraq will defeat all the number twisting of the pro-war pundits and bloggers. But drawdown can be on the terms of people who believe we must change our fundamental mission in Iraq, or it can be on the terms of people who will extend deployments further and get more soldiers killed in the process of proving that we can't win. It must be the former, and pundits, bloggers and ordinary citizens have no choice but to redouble their efforts to force Democrats to take a stand against the war, "progress" report or no.