By Helen Thomas, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
WASHINGTON - Surprise, surprise. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, wants to put a halt to any more troop withdrawals for the foreseeable future.
The highly politicized Petraeus seemed to be dutifully following his White House marching orders when he testified before congressional committees earlier this week.
Under his scenario, there will be no drawdown of U.S. forces in that strife-ridden country until President Bush leaves office.
That’s fine with Bush, who obviously has no intention of ending this futile war on his watch. Apparently feeling no responsibility for starting the war, Bush is planning to pass the Iraqi debacle on to his successor.
You can forget accountability for the yet-to-be defined U.S. military mission which has taken more than 4,000 American lives, possibly a million Iraqi lives and destroyed a country.
Think of President Harry Truman and President Lyndon B. Johnson, who both understood that war was too important to be left to the generals in the field.
Truman fired the popular Gen. Douglas MacArthur because he disobeyed orders in the Korean War. Johnson knew that he had reached the endgame in Vietnam when Gen. William Westmoreland, the top commander in Vietnam, requested 240,000 more troops in 1968 for the prolonged war that also could not be won.
Those two presidents finally drummed up enough courage to just say “no.”
Petraeus is too smart to be pinned down on when the U.S. can pull out more troops, especially when there’s been a new flare-up of sectarian violence in Iraq. Let’s say he is careful and self-protective, trying to hold on.
When Petraeus testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told him: “What you have given to your chain of command is a plan which has no end to it.”
The general replied: “Withdrawing too many forces too quickly could jeopardize the progress of the past year.”
Congress should wake up before it’s too late and listen to retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency.
NSA is the nation’s largest intelligence agency which monitors messages from all over the world.
Odom testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week and urged an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. He claimed the troop surge (escalation) has prolonged instability in Iraq and that the only “sensible strategy” is “rapid withdrawal.”
In a separate speech last week, the outspoken general said, “We are certainly to blame for the chaos in Iraq” but “we do not have the physical means to prevent it.”
Odom said the military situation in Iraq is worsened by “the proliferation of armed groups under local military chiefs who follow a proliferating number of political bosses.”
“We are witnessing … the road to Balkanization of Iraq, that is political fragmentation,” Odom said
War makes strange bedfellows.
The Sunnis are now on our side — if we continue to pay them enough, of course. They would be happy to see the U.S. attack Shiite-dominated Iran. Odom said those new-found friends threaten to defect unless their fees are increased.
“The concern we hear the president and his aides express about a residual base left for al-Qaida if we withdraw is utter nonsense, ” Odom said. “The Sunnis will destroy al-Qaida if we leave Iraq,” he added. “The Kurds will not allow them in their region and the Shiites “detest” al-Qaida, he said.
Although the U.S. economic recession is expected to dominate the presidential election race, Iraq won’t be on the back burner if the Petraeus hearings are any guide.
The three presidential hopefuls — Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. and Barack Obama, D-Ill. — showed up at the high-profile hearings where Petraeus testified.
As expected, staunch-war supporter McCain said any promise to withdraw U.S. forces “would constitute a failure of political and moral leadership.”
In their disappointing comments, the Democratic rivals were as cautious as Petraeus.
Clinton said “it’s time to begin an orderly withdrawal of our troops.”
Obama told Petraeus that while he wants U.S. troops out of Iraq, he “would not initiate a precipitous withdrawal.”
Ohio’s GOP Sen. George Voinovich seemed to express the frustration best when he told Petraeus: “The American people have had it up to here.”
Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .