This isn’t news, really. A CNN poll a few weeks ago got the same result for the same question. By comparison, 39% think he’ll tell the truth, although there’s no way to tell how many of them are already in favor of continuing the mission and how many are skeptics willing to be persuaded. Only 36% say the military is making “significant progress” so there’s at least a few votes up for grab. MoveOn is going to try to rally the non-troops tomorrow with an ad in the Times referring to Petraeus as “General Betray Us.” Really.
The results for questions 12 through 14 are grim, especially the trend in the first of those three, but I was accused yesterday of being an Eeyorepundit and don’t want to ruin anyone’s good vibes, so go ahead and read the data for yourself. Or don’t; whatever. If you do, here’s some good news from another new poll to balance it out: almost twice as many people now think the surge has made things better as thought so in July. From 19% to 29% in August to 35% in September, no doubt on the strength of the reports from Anbar.
The big Iraq scoop today is WaPo’s behind-the-scenes account of the political progress of the surge, starting with Bush’s speech announcing it on January 10th and running through to the present with the allegedly ugly disagreement between Petraeus and Centcom commander Adm. William Fallon over whether we should re-commit to Iraq or pull out quickly so we’re ready to fight on other fronts — i.e. Iran — if need be.
Lawmakers were not alone. Fallon, who took command of Centcom in March, worried that Iraq was undermining the military’s ability to confront other threats, such as Iran. “When he took over, the reality hit him that he had to deal with Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and a whole bunch of other stuff besides Iraq,” said a top military officer.
Fallon was also derisive of Iraqi leaders’ intentions and competence, and dubious about the surge. “He’s been saying from Day One, ‘This isn’t working,’ ” said a senior administration official. And Fallon signaled his departure from Bush by ordering subordinates to avoid the term “long war” — a phrase the president used to describe the fight against terrorism.
To Bush aides, Gates did not seem fully on board with the president’s strategy, either…
A Pentagon official said Gates is “very concerned about all of our energy” being devoted to Iraq, an “overcommitment that is consuming and distracting us from everything else. On the other hand, he knows there can’t be another Saigon. There’s this balance.”
The Joint Chiefs are supposedly on Fallon’s side, but publicly at least Fallon says he and Petraeus are agreed on the forthcoming recommendations, which will reportedly involve staying the course with no more than a token drawdown of surge troops before spring. WaPo also makes it sound like the cabinet was surprised by the emergence and pace of the Anbar awakening, a point members of Petraeus’s inner circle confirm to Newsweek:
Two camps quickly emerged: those who wanted to crush all the various insurgencies in Iraq, and those who thought that task impossible. The latter won out, and the resulting 100-page report argued that U.S. forces—while trying to galvanize the government in Baghdad—should meanwhile seek out local leaders and cut deals with them, hoping eventually to unite them under a common banner. “Recruit locally, train locally, deploy locally” has become Petraeus’s favorite maxim, as exemplified by his efforts to build local police forces rather than waste more resources on the Shiite-militia-dominated national police.
Members of the brain trust freely admit that they are at some level simply trying to exploit events beyond their control. Meese says no one foresaw how quickly the tribes in Anbar province would flip. “There’s a slide that describes this joint campaign plan, and it’s got a picture of Iraq and it’s weaving everything together,” he says. “They didn’t have a part of the weave over Anbar because they didn’t think it would happen as well or as rapidly as it did happen.”
Odierno’s also been stressing to lower officers in Anbar that “reconciliation is local,” according to WaPo. Part of the incentive to reconcile is payments of what the paper calls “reward money” and what the Times of London calls “bribes,” although how the Times knows whether that money is going into the sheikhs’ pockets or towards reconstruction projects or towards supplies for their men escapes me. Either way, the new emphasis on local government is leading to what David Ignatius thinks is a Biden-esque soft partition of the country, with the national government overseeing Baghdad and not much else. Maliki’s trying to avoid that, announcing today that they’ve fired no fewer than 14,000 employees of the rotten Ministry of the Interior over the past months in an effort to make it less sectarian, but I think his ship has sailed. If Anbar stays relatively stable and one of the Shiite groups emerges in the south as a dominant power able to provide some form of tribal security, Bush will probably be willing next year to call that good enough.
18 hours to Petraeus. That grinding sound is the whirrr of ideological swords being sharpened…