THE PETRAEUS REPORT….The Washington Post reports that Gen. David Petraeus managed to get the recent intelligence assessment of Iraq toned down:
The NIE, requested by the White House Iraq coordinator, Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, in preparation for the testimony, met with resistance from U.S. military officials in Baghdad, according to a senior U.S. military intelligence officer there. Presented with a draft of the conclusions, Petraeus succeeded in having the security judgments softened to reflect improvements in recent months, the official said.
This reminds me of something. I don’t remember if I’ve ever blogged about this before, but until recently my guess was that Petraeus’s September report to Congress would be pretty sober. My thinking was that he’s a smart guy, and realizes that trying to paint too pretty a picture would ruin his credibility. So instead he’d present a basically realistic assessment, but stud it with just enough signs of progress to convince everyone that he deserved more time to make the surge work.
Now I’m not so sure. Petraeus has been very shrewd about providing dog-and-pony shows to as many analysts, pundits, reporters, and members of Congress as he could cram into the military jets criss-crossing the Atlantic to Baghdad on a seemingly daily basis this summer. And those dog-and-pony shows don’t seem to have been subtle: rather, they’ve been hard-sell propositions complete with “classified” PowerPoint presentations (always a winner for people with more ego than common sense); visits to a handpicked selection of the most successful reconstruction teams in the country; a plainly deceptive implication that the surge played a role in the Anbar Awakening; feel-good stories about how local power generation is a good thing; the recent insistence that civilian casualties are down, which increasingly looks like a book-cooking scam that wouldn’t stand the light of day if Petraeus allowed independent agencies access to his data; and, of course, the ongoing campaign to scare everyone by kinda sorta claiming that Iran and al-Qaeda are ramping up their activities and then getting suddenly slippery whenever anyone asks if they have any real evidence for this.
Petraeus is still a smart guy. He won’t go too far overboard. But he’s obviously been treating the September report like a military operation, trying to generate as much good press and congressional change of heart as he possibly can in the weeks leading up to 9/11. I now expect him to provide just the opposite of what I thought before: a consistently upbeat report studded with just enough accomodations to reality to keep him from seeming completely ridiculous.
And the question is: Will everyone swoon? Or will they demand more than just anecdotal evidence and unsupported statistics? I hope for the latter, but I fear for the former.