MoveOn is still getting heavy criticism for its New York Times ad asking whether Gen. David Petraeus should be known as "Betray Us." But the general is facing skepticism about his Iraq war P.R. offensive from a less likely source: Newsweek's Michael Hirsh says a Pentagon working group is preparing recommendations on troop levels and strategy that will "differ substantially" from Petraeus and the Bush administration's line.
"An early version of the report, which is currently being drafted and is expected to be completed by the beginning of next year, will 'recommend a very rapid reduction in American forces: as much as two-thirds of the existing force very quickly, while keeping the remainder there,'" Hirsh reports. "There is interest at senior levels [of the Pentagon] in getting alternative views" to Petraeus', an anonymous senior official said.
Hirsh also quotes counterinsurgency expert John Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School comparing Petraeus' performance before Congress this week with Colin Powell's discredited role selling the Iraq war almost five years ago.
"I think Colin Powell used dodgy information to get us into the war, and Petraeus is using dodgy information to keep us there," Arquilla said. "His political talking points are all very clear: the continued references he made to the danger of Al Qaeda in Iraq, for example, even though it represents only somewhere between 2 and 5 percent of the total insurgency. The continued references to Iran, when in fact the Iranians have had a lot to do with stability in the Shiite portion of the country. And it's not at all clear why things are a little better now. Is it because there are more troops, or is it because we're negotiating with the insurgents and have moved to small operating outposts?"
MoveOn's Nita Chaudhary also compared Petraeus with Powell in defending the group's tough language about the general in the Monday ad. "Some Democrats were uncomfortable with such strong language, and Republicans attacked MoveOn," Chaudhary wrote in a letter to members Tuesday morning. "We're sure if we'd run an ad debunking Colin Powell's testimony in 2003, they would have done the same thing -- but sometimes it's important to set the facts straight." I'm on record as someone who wasn't crazy about the schoolyard play on Petraeus' name, but Chaudhary's right about the larger point. Overall, the deference to Petraeus and ambassador Ryan Crocker has been vexing.
Finally, check out Alyssa Rubin and Damien Cave's story on Crocker's much more negative assessment of conditions in Baghdad in Tuesday's New York Times. In a recent conversation with reporters, Crocker described his alarm over the city's disintegration. "What's happened over the last couple of years is stunning," Crocker said, referring to neighborhoods he'd visited in 2003. "What has happened to middle-class, upper-class neighborhoods -- the violence, the population shifts, the displacement, the tens of thousands of Iraqis that have been killed. You're just not going to overcome that in a few weeks or indeed in a few months." Or even in a few years, frankly -- and yet that seems to be the administration's game plan for American troops.
I'll be on MSNBC's "Live With Dan Abrams" at 9 p.m. EDT tonight debating Pat Buchanan about Gen. Petraeus and ambassador Crocker's second day of testimony.