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Gates, Way Off Message

In the midst of the usual catastrophes, there is, finally, a bit of good news from Iraq. As a Los Angeles Times headline on Monday noted: “Iraqi civilian toll hits low for year.”

All statistics from such a chaotic place should be treated with suspicion, but if the figures provided by the Iraqi government and cited in this article are to be believed, the number of Iraqi civilians killed in June was 1,227—still way too many, but a substantial decrease from the May figure of 1,949 and considerably lower even than the February mark of 1,646. Although it’s far too early to draw any definitive conclusions, this may provide some tentative indications that the surge is in fact succeeding, notwithstanding the predictable and lamentable increase in American military casualties in recent months.

The administration and its senior policy-makers ought to be pointing to these indicators and arguing for giving more time and support to General David Petraeus to try to improve the security situation. That is, in fact, just what President Bush did in an excellent speech recently at the Naval War College. Too bad his own Secretary of Defense is undercutting the President’s message, as reported in a front-page article in today’s Wall Street Journal. The headline says it all: “In Strategy Shift, Gates Envisions Iraq Troop Cuts. Pullback Is Deemed Key To Forging a Consensus On Long-Haul Plans.”

I recently argued in a Los Angeles Times op-ed why it doesn’t make sense for Senator Richard Lugar and other Republicans to call for a premature end to the surge. But that’s a tough case to make when the Defense Secretary himself is being quoted on the front page of a major national newspaper entertaining that very strategy. This kind of leak from within the administration is deeply counterproductive. It encourages doubt about American resolve, both at home and abroad. And it is the latest indication of why even those of us who support the President’s foreign policy objectives think he has been singularly inept in their pursuit.



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