Dishonest Bush Administration Talking Points from Gen. Petraeus

Somebody must have already picked up on this, but it’s very telling that Gen. Petraeus’ first explanation for his assertions that “the military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met” and that “the overall number of security incidents in Iraq has declined in eight of the past 12 weeks” is as follows:

One reason for the decline in incidence is that coalition and Iraqi forces have dealt significant blows to Al Qaida Iraq. Though Al Qaida and its affiliates remain dangerous, we have taken away a number of their sanctuaries and gained the initiative in many areas.

Let’s link to Tilghman again:

military officials told the New York Times in August that of the roughly 24,500 prisoners in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq (nearly all of whom are Sunni), just 1,800—about 7 percent—claim allegiance to al-Qaeda in Iraq. Moreover, the composition of inmates does not support the assumption that large numbers of foreign terrorists, long believed to be the leaders and most hard-core elements of AQI, are operating inside Iraq. In August, American forces held in custody 280 foreign nationals—slightly more than 1 percent of total inmates.

The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which arguably has the best track record for producing accurate intelligence assessments, last year estimated that AQI’s membership was in a range of “more than 1,000.” When compared with the military’s estimate for the total size of the insurgency—between 20,000 and 30,000 full-time fighters—this figure puts AQI forces at around 5 percent. When compared with Iraqi intelligence’s much larger estimates of the insurgency—200,000 fighters—INR’s estimate would put AQI forces at less than 1 percent. This year, the State Department dropped even its base-level estimate, because, as an official explained, “the information is too disparate to come up with a consensus number.”

How big, then, is AQI? The most persuasive estimate I’ve heard comes from Malcolm Nance, the author of The Terrorists of Iraq and a twenty-year intelligence veteran and Arabic speaker who has worked with military and intelligence units tracking al-Qaeda inside Iraq. He believes AQI includes about 850 full-time fighters, comprising 2 percent to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency. “Al-Qaeda in Iraq,” according to Nance, “is a microscopic terrorist organization.”

Gen. Petraeus names Al Qaeda in the opening paragraphs of his performance today because of their emotional resonance in the US, not their strategic importance in Iraq. Gen. Petraeus made a political speech today.

As former anti-terrorism czar Richard Clarke explained, if we keep “a lot of troops in a small area, we can achieve security in that area. Well, duh. Of course we can. … That’s not the issue. The issue is, why the hell are we there in the first place?” Clarke asserts that it’s not worth American lives to give breathing space for the Iraqi parliament, which is why we’re there. After all, “There is no military solution to … the insurgency of Iraq,” as the March 2007 edition of Gen. Petraeus explained.

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