Petraeus's War

Surging forward, accomplishing nothing
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EDITORIAL Nine Americans soldiers died in Iraq on Sept. 10, a few more than average, but overall it was just another typical day in a war that has cost a fortune, claimed the lives of 3,774 US troops and perhaps 600,000 Iraqis — and accomplished nothing.

While those (mostly) young people died in the desert, Gen. David Petraeus was in Washington, D.C., wearing a starched uniform shirt with four stars and seven rows of medals, telling members of Congress that the mission in Iraq is coming along just fine.

The surge, he insisted, is working, and there are signs of progress. He held up chart after chart showing that casualties and sectarian killings are down, that parts of Baghdad are becoming more secure — and that he expects to be able to end the surge and bring back the additional 30,000 troops by next summer.

What that means, in essence, is that the top general in Iraq thinks the United States will still need 130,000 troops in that country a year from now. That's unacceptable — and it's up to the Democratic leadership, which has been all too deferential to the military brass, to stand up and say so.

For months now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–San Francisco), who prematurely took impeachment off the table, has been telling her antiwar constituents that she wanted to wait until she heard from Petraeus before taking any action on the war. Now she's heard. He's said he doesn't see any end to the occupation. He's mouthing platitudes that clearly aren't true (the violence now is still far worse than it was four years ago) and presenting an image of Iraq that is on its face false (a remarkable new poll by ABC News, the BBC, and Japanese broadcaster NHK concludes that 70 percent of Iraqis think the situation has gotten worse in the past six months and the surge is a failure). And he's talking about al Qaeda and Iran in tones that suggest that the administration is looking for excuses to expand the conflict even further.

Pelosi should not be allowed any more excuses. She needs to begin moving for an immediate and dramatic troop reduction with an aggressive schedule for complete withdrawal. And if she has to, she should publicly state that the Democrats in Congress are prepared to cut off funding for the war.

This latest report should be a call to arms for the antiwar movement, which needs to be visible and active on every front — including reminding the Democratic presidential candidates that moderate, cautious statements about ending the war simply aren't good enough. Anyone who wants the nomination for George W. Bush's job ought to be willing to stand up and say what the clear majority of Americans think: it's time to bring the troops home, now.