"And lo, Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand." (Exodus 32:15)
After all the hoopla from the administration, you'd think General Petraeus' testimony would be delivered on stone tablets, too. But General Petraeus isn't Moses -- and he's not the commander in chief either. Many in the media and in Washington have turned to our military leaders to make sweeping policy decisions and undo four years of arrogance and error in Iraq. Instead, thankfully, our military continues to implement the decisions of their civilian leadership. That is, after all, what the generals should do in democratic nations.
Yesterday, General Petraeus gave a moderate and forthright accounting of the uneven military progress in Baghdad, based heavily on the Pentagon's very questionable data on Iraqi civilian deaths and sectarian violence. In contrast, Ambassador Crocker, delivering the less-anticipated but much more crucial report on political reconciliation, relied on individual anecdotes and far-fetched analogies. The combined testimony suggests that our limited military success has been undercut by the failure to achieve national political reconciliation, the president's stated goal for the surge. We've known all this for weeks, if not months. Remind me what we were all waiting for?
Even the big news -- the planned decrease in troop strength -- was nothing new. Hitting pre-surge levels by mid-2008 isn't just a strategic goal. It's a practical necessity. Top military brass admitted more than a month ago that the surge cannot persist after April 2008 without extending tours to 18 months or instituting a draft. Simply put, we're out of troops.
Which brings us to the real issue, one that falls outside the scope of General Petraeus's report. Because of the Iraq War, our military is stretched to the breaking point. Troops are now serving the longest overseas deployments since World War Two, and almost half a million troops have served more than one tour. Four-fifths of Army Guard and Reserve units not currently deployed have the lowest possible readiness rating, and 88 percent of those National Guard units are considered very poorly equipped. Bottom line: the war in Iraq is leaving us unprepared at home. That means we're at higher risk during natural disasters, as all 50 governors nationwide have warned. Moreover, as the recent arrests in Germany show, Iraq is not some kind of terrorist flypaper. We are still at risk outside Iraq, and particularly here at home.
For months, the lead-up to the Petraeus report has sucked up all the air in any public discussion of national security. In the last few days, the debate has gotten completely out of hand, culminating in repugnant personal attacks on General Petraeus before he even delivered his report.
Those with a partisan axe to grind will find plenty of material in the Petraeus-Crocker testimonies. But it's long past time to put aside the rhetoric, and to stop waiting for answers from on high. Any responsible person following the situation in Iraq knows how few options we have left. It's time to look at them honestly, and with the future readiness of our military in mind.