Building a house with Petraeus and Crocker
Carlton M. Caves
2008 April 10

You decide that you and your family need a new house, and you buy a piece of property to build it on. You contract with a reputable firm, Bush Home Builders, to construct the house, and work commences. Visits to your property always find a great deal of activity, but the activity doesn't seem to move toward a completed house. After five years of construction, you meet with the contractor's representatives, Mr. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker, to discuss progress and plans, and the following conversation ensues.

What kind of house are you building for me?

That's hard to say. The situation is very complex and depends critically on the conditions we encounter on the ground as construction proceeds. What we have are a number of factors that we will consider by areas as we look at where we can make recommendations for further construction beyond that already completed.

What are your plans for completing the house?

We plan to continue work as time goes forward.

Can you say anything more about the conditions on the ground that you still need to consider?

You've got a tough lot to build on, a lot tougher than anyone appreciated at the beginning of construction. We have to look at the circumstances and assess, based on the lot's geometry and a difficult lot-house calculus. It's your property---and maybe someday your house---but that doesn't mean you're equipped to understand this complicated calculus. Leave that to us.

How much is this going to cost?

We'll let you know as we go along. Just write a check when we send a bill.

How long will it take to complete the house?

It will take as long as necessary.

But, after five years, isn't it fair for me to ask whether you think the house can be completed?

It is very fair, and it's why I emphasize that we haven't turned any corners, we haven't seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle has been pushed to the back of the refrigerator. And the progress, while real, is fragile and is reversible.

You mean the whole structure might fall down at this late stage?

Yes, it could, but only if you don't send those checks.

I'm curious about that tunnel---and the refrigerator.

Don't ask.

How will you know---and how will I know---when the house is finished?

We'll know it when we see it, and then we'll let you know.

There you have it---the Bush-Petraeus-Crocker plan for Iraq. After a period when the Bush gang was pushed so far into a corner that they were forced to articulate a set of benchmarks to get the surge approved---few, if any of these benchmarks have been achieved, and they have mostly been conveniently forgotten---we're now back to a policy with no aims, no strategy, no tactics, and no end game, only unspecified, but inevitable costs in lives and treasure. In their Congressional testimony this week, Petraeus and Crocker resolutely refused to provide any information about where we're going in Iraq or how they plan to get to whatever unspecified objectives they have.

This is madness. And it is maddening. Any enterprise should be informed, at least minimally, by the answers to a few basic questions: What are the objectives? How are the objectives to be achieved? How much will it cost? How long will it take? Petraeus and Crocker doggedly turned aside all such questions, refusing to provide any information about why we're in Iraq or what we're hoping to accomplish. The only justification for remaining in Iraq seems to be that we're already there, the present "thereness" compelling future "thereness," doing the same things to the same effect with no end in sight and not even an idea of what would constitute an end.

Last September, the Petraeus-Crocker show got high marks, mainly because the duo projected a realism and sobriety sorely missing from the absurdities purveyed by Bush and Cheney. This time, however, I think they have shot themselves in the foot. They are as sober as last time around, but to what purpose? Their unbending refusal to provide information about the most basic considerations that must underly a war policy will mean, I think, that their influence will fade and end. Too many people, including many conservative Republicans, now realize that we are pursuing a policy to nowhere and are beginning to think that we need answers to those basic questions.

Not that anything will happen immediately. The Senate Republicans, led by their presumptive presidential nominee, John McCain, will continue to ensure that Bush can pursue his aimless, tragic course in Iraq right to the end of his administration. In his opening statement at the Petraeus-Crocker appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain thundered, "Should the United States instead choose to withdraw from Iraq before adequate security is established, we will exchange for this victory a defeat that is terrible and long-lasting." What victory is he talking about? No one at these hearings specified how we would recognize the end in Iraq, much less a victory. This talk about victory comes from a man who can't keep straight the difference between Sunnis and Shiites and between al-Qaeda in Iraq and the newly defined "special groups" backed by Iran. We have to consider the frightening possibility that McCain, despite all his straight talk, might turn out to be even more incompetent than Bush.

The hope is that the Senate Republicans will be punished at the polls in November, enough of them being swept aside that, along with the election of a president other than McCain, we can begin the difficult task of extracting ourselves from the Iraq mess.

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