This morning's Washington Post features a lengthy "analysis" by the usual suspects. On the eve of congressional testimony by Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus, Post reporters Peter Baker, Karen DeYoung, Thomas E. Ricks, Ann Scott Tyson, Joby Warrick and Robin Wright team up for a Page One portrait of dissension in the ranks. Headline: Among Top Officials, 'Surge' Has Sparked Dissent, Infighting. It's as if the Post clings to fading hopes that the surge, also known as the Baghdad Security Plan, is really not working. If it is they would prefer not to report it. How newsworthy can it be, after all?
The Post has a new champion. U.S. Centcom Commander Admiral William J. Fallon, according to this Post report, is often at odds with the Bush Administration and with General Petraeus.
For two hours, President Bush listened to contrasting visions of the U.S. future in Iraq. Gen. David H. Petraeus dominated the conversation by video link from Baghdad, making the case to keep as many troops as long as possible to cement any security progress. Adm. William J. Fallon, his superior, argued instead for accepting more risks in Iraq, officials said, in order to have enough forces available to confront other potential threats in the region.
We get the picture of a forceful Admiral Fallon, worried about our ability to "confront other threats," "dubious about the surge," and "pretty much in your face."
President Bush gets the role of ineffectual bystander to all the discussion and decision making. Bush was "somber" and "unpersuasive" in his announcement of the surge strategy. He "played defense", he "became aggravated by Maliki's inability to forge agreements." Bush "rejected proposals by the Iraq Study Group and others to talk with Iran, but [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice decided it was time." Bush, the bystander, is merely the beneficiary of "good timing."
The "Anbar Awakening" represented perhaps the most important shift in years, but it generated little debate at the White House. Long before the tribes switched sides, the administration conducted a policy exercise on how to team up with former insurgents. But when such an alliance occurred, it bubbled up from the ground with no Washington involvement.
The "policy exercise" was actually a test of the strategy and tactics laid out in the U.S. Army & Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, developed under the guidance of General David Petraeus. For a flavor of how well the "policy exercise" went, we can look to this TimesOnline report by Martin Fletcher.
In Ramadi last weekend I did things unthinkable almost anywhere else in this violent country. I walked through the main souk without body armour, talking to ordinary Iraqis. Late one evening I strolled into the brightly lit Jamiah district of the city with Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Turner, the tobacco-chewing US marine in charge of central Ramadi, to buy kebabs from an outdoor restaurant – “It’s safer than London or New York,” Colonel Turner assured me.
I listened incredulously as Latif Obaid Ayadah, Ramadi’s Mayor, told me of his desire to build an airport and tourist resort in Ramadi and talked – only half in jest – of twinning his city with Belfast and Oklahoma City. “I want it to be a small slice of heaven,” he declared.
I had met Captain Patriquin while embedded with US troops in Ramadi last November. He was a big man, moustachioed, ex-Special Forces, fluent in Arabic and engaged in what was then a revolutionary experiment for a US military renowned for busting doors down. He and a small group from the First Brigade Combat Team, part of the 1st Armoured Division, were assiduously courting the local sheikhs – tribal leaders – over endless cups of tea and cigarettes.
They were encouraging them to rise up against the hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters – Saudi, Jordanian, Syrian, Sudanese, Yemeni – who had arrived in Ramadi two years earlier, promising to lead the battle against the infidel Americans. What al-Qaeda actually did was recruit local thugs, seize control of the city, and impose a Taleban-style rule of terror.
Today Fletcher reports that Ramadi is a safer city than New York or London. What remarkable timing and blind good luck, that the architect of Ramadi's transformation, General David Petraeus, somehow found himself in command of all American forces in Iraq. Why, it's positively miraculous. And of course, according to the Post, it all happened without any involvement of the White House.
While the Post would have its readers believe that the Anbar Awakening was purely accidental, in actuality it was the result of what might be called a beta test of the surge strategy developed by General Petraeus and described in the Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Ramadi was the proving ground. The Anbar sheiks, contrary to Post wisdom, did not mysteriously and inexplicably change teams. They were won over. There was a plan. There was a trial run. The trial run worked. The plan is working.
Unfortunately, this kind of news is not quite up to Washington Post standards. Balanced reporting, in the view of the Washington Post, requires that the Bush Administration must be countered. To Admiral Fallon falls the honor of representing the dissenting view.
Fallon has made the case that Petraeus's recommendations should consider the political reality in Washington and lay out a guide to troop withdrawals, while Petraeus has resisted that, beyond a possible token pullout of a brigade early next year, according to military officials. The Joint Chiefs have been sympathetic to Fallon's view.
In an interview Friday, Fallon said he and Petraeus have reached accommodation about tomorrow's testimony. "The most important thing is I'm very happy with what Dave has recommended," he said. As for the earlier discussions, he begged off. "It's too politically charged right now."
General Petraeus, the architect of the surge, has no intention of losing this war. A seemingly wistful Washington Post offers up a wish that by considering the political reality in Washington, he will. Admiral Fallon whether he likes it or not is their champion.
Update: Captain's Quarters considers the Post article an intriguing history lesson, but disagress with its central point.
While the surge initially produced dissent -- even within the military command -- the results have united the administration and the military more than at any time over the last eight months.