Here's the question that senators ought to have asked General Petraeus (the current Colin Powell):Could you give us a rough estimate, general, of how many more American men and women will die in Iraq? Not a precise figure, just an approximation?
That is an important question. Chicago political guru Don Rose has pointed out that Bush's war in Iraq has caused the deaths of more Americans than died in the Sept. 11 attacks and probably more Iraqis than Saddam Hussein killed. What is the point of all this slaughter?
This is a strange week in America. As we pass the sixth anniversary of 9/11, Bush is still telling us that the Iraq war can be won, that we can achieve victory, that we can create a democratic Iraq. The neocons who created the war are telling us that the "surge" in Iraq has "worked," that the tide has turned, that we see light at the end of the tunnel (well, they don't say that, but it's the same idea). The work of the Iraq Study Group could be cast aside, the grim news in the recent National Intelligence Report can be dismissed, the reports of the Government Accountability Office on the "guidelines" for the Iraqi government were "pessimistic;" Marine Gen. James Jones' reports on the state of the Iraqi police and army did not include August.
All of these attempts to advocate surrender in Iraq (as the TV ads call it) were now irrelevant. General Petraeus had come home from Iraq with the news that the the president's new strategy had worked, as the president knew he would. Petraeus was the ultimate standard. No one else. No other report mattered. Now, since the president had a mandate to continue his optimism, victory in Iraq would be achieved.
The photo opportunity in Anbar province was designed to persuade the military and the American people that he was right to be confident, to be dead certain. That's how you should lead, how you would win. That the surge was originally sold as providing time for the Iraqi government to take charge -- and clearly they had not -- was unimportant in the face of Petraeus's endorsement of the success of the surge.
This might be a good week to read Robert Draper's book Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush. Draper is sympathetic to Bush and tries to be favorable, but he wants to understand how the president can be so "dead certain" about everything. It is a question many Americans are asking.
The first interview with Draper occurs after the report of the Iraq Study Group. The president is uneasy. He can't accept what the group wants because that would betray his lack of certainty. Unless he displayed confidence that we would win, the troops and their leaders would lose confidence. He was confident he could stop drinking, never hesitated for a moment. He was confident he would win the Texas gubernatorial race. He never doubted for a moment that he would win both presidential elections. That's why he won. Confidence confirms itself. Similarly with Iraq, if he continued to be optimistic about victory, we would indeed win. Will the American public buy into this hype, so much like that which came before the invasion of Iraq? In the short run, maybe. In the long run . . .
Andrew Greeley is a regular columnist for the Sun Times.
© 2007 The Chicago Sun Times