(HOST) Now that General Petraeus has made his report to congress, commentator Bill Seamans is thinking about the future – of the war – and the general.
(SEAMANS) After several weeks of extreme political stagecraft we can today objectively say about the Iraq crisis that nothing has changed. The argument continues over whether President Bush’s surge is surging. While our troops are being killed or maimed daily our congress persons are parsing the words "success" and "victory." One answer we still cannot get is how many of our
GI’s and Marines will remain in Iraq and for how long. Right now it looks like they will be there indefinitely – a word that can be parsed as meaning "no end in sight."
The next stagecrafted scene will be the withdrawal promised by General Petraeus of a token force of about 2500 Marines in time for Christmas. We can expect that scene will create some heartwarming political photo-ops as President Bush turns out to greet them
against a background of Christmas festivities, But they will be a very small trickle from the estimated 178,000 troops remaining in Iraq who no doubt will be watching with extreme interest. Petraeus promises that the next drawback will occur in April when the so-called temporary force of 30,000 surge troops was scheduled to start returning home. However, Petraeus said that their return will depend on conditions on the ground at the time. So his promise is really a "maybe!" And again in the litany of denial we are asked to be patient.
Meantime, in the past few weeks we might have seen the emergence of a new political celebrity who has set hearts thumping at the Republican National Committee. And no doubt there was the unexpected hope: What a terrific presidential candidate he would make! They saw their proverbial knight in shining armor, a warrior intellectual unencumbered by the personal baggage of adultery and unsavory divorce – and he’s a very obvious undeclared conservative.
Yes, General David Petraeus. As for his political charisma, Paul Krugman of the New York Times wrote: "The Democrats looked at General Petraeus’s uniform and medals and fell into their usual cringe – they didn’t ask hard questions out of fear that someone
might accuse them of attacking the military." We now ask whether that political shock and awe will endure if Petraeus ever exchanges his uniform for civvies – who will suggest "Shades of Eisenhower?"
And Petraeus may have passed the integrity test when he was asked whether the war in Iraq is making our country any safer – he answered: "Sir, I don’t know, actually." And if our question had been asked – how many more Americans will die in Iraq – General Petraeus could have again replied, "Sir, I don’t know, actually."
Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for A-B-C News in the Middle East.