In an odd juxtaposition, questions about bringing our troops home and how long Gen. David Petraeus himself will stay have become entwined in the Washington debate over Iraq.
Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that he supports a pause in troop reduction after the drawdown to pre-Surge levels in July, reflecting doubts Petraeus has expressed while others in the Pentagon have been worrying about the strain of prolonged tours on the US military.
Two weeks ago, Gates tried to quiet rumors that Petraeus would be leaving Iraq for the top NATO command, saying "the president is pretty clear that he wants General Petraeus to stay right where he is at least through late fall and maybe the end of the year.”
As the symbol of "success" in Iraq for both the Bush Administration and John McCain's candidacy, Petraeus is finding his own career path blocked by the lowering of violence levels without enough significant political reconciliation to keep making troop reductions.
"Nothing in Iraq is easy," Petraeus told a reporter recently, a statement that may be the gist of his scheduled progress report to Congress next month. Meanwhile, his personal bind is a perfect metaphor for our national dilemma, being stuck in an Iraq stalemate that is like flypaper to any hope of moving on.
Someday, Gen. Petraeus may be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, a personal victory that won't console American families whose loved ones will keep dying in Iraq between now and then.