Monday, July 28, 2008

Petraeus' Reality Check

By the end of last week, John McCain was agreeing with Barack Obama that 16 months would be "a pretty good timetable" for withdrawing American troops from Iraq, but now Gen. David Petraeus says no.

The situation in Iraq, he tells an interviewer, is too volatile to "project out, and to then try to plant a flag on, a particular date."

Unlike the candidates, who have condensed their positions to bumper stickers of withdrawal or victory, Petraeus is wary of what Colin Powell called the Pottery Barn rule about Iraq, "You break it, you own it."

It should be sobering to hear from our man on the ground that McCain's claims of victory and belaboring of Obama for defeatism are, to put it kindly, premature.

"We know where we are trying to go," Petraeus says. "We know how we think we need to try to get there with our Iraqi partners and increasingly with them in the lead and shouldering more of the burden as they are.

"But there are a lot of storm clouds out there, there are lots of these possible lightning bolts. You just don't know what it could be. You try to anticipate them and you try to react very quickly...It's all there, but it's not something you want to lay out publicly."

Translation: We just don't know when the US can stop pouring blood and dollars into the fantasy of a free, democratic Iraq because the outcome is not in our hands.

If anything, Petraeus' doubts should reinforce Obama's determination to decide what we can do, give up the pipedream and start allocating our forces to fight terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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