September 21, 2007


Who do We Listen To?

By Israel Ortega

With the eyes of the nation watching, General David Petraeus recently delivered a sobering report on Iraq to members of Congress. And yet, even before he’d said a word, many Americans had already made up their minds. Unfortunately, many of these Americans are our elected officials tasked with the unique responsibility of looking out for our best interests. It’s sad that, even with this critical issue, too many can’t set politics aside for the sake of our country and its citizens.

In the weeks before the testimony, the general’s appearance promised to be a much needed fresh of breath air in a country tired of the political rhetoric. Surely the independent voice of the man in charge of all operations in Iraq would provide us with some much needed perspective, right? Regrettably the answer seems to be no. Politicians, political pundits, interest groups, and activists seized on the moment to exploit this critical issue.

Perhaps the most atrocious perpetrator was the far left-liberal interest group called that bought ad space in this week’s New York Times denouncing General Petraeus and accusing him of cooking the books for the White House. In fact, the Times apparently gave them a nice $116,000 dollar discount. The ad reads, in part: “General Petraeus or General betray us.” But even for this notoriously radical group, this was a new low.

What’s particularly ironic is that the General’s testimony was not what the far left was envisioning. That is, Ambassador Crocker and General David Petraeus did not paint a rosy portrait of the situation in Iraq. Instead these brave and distinguished men conveyed to the Senators, and to the American people, that while there is continued progress taking place in Iraq, there is considerable room for improvement. And perhaps more importantly, a precipitous exit from Iraq would be dangerous for Middle East stability.

As my colleague Dr. Kirk Johnson, chief statistician for Ambassador Ryan Crocker for the last year, describes in a recent paper, “the “surge” has been especially effective in reducing civilian casualties in Baghdad. Additionally, Johnson writes that sectarian casualties are only a fraction of total civilian casualties, and such numbers lack meaning in ethnically or religiously similar communities. The last point is particularly helpful in understanding the newspaper headlines reporting on casualties.

Who better to provide us with an accurate assessment of the Iraq situation and the latest casualty numbers: A civil servant who just spent the last year in Iraq on the front lines working for the Ambassador, or politicians and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., thousands of miles away from Iraq?

Clearly emotions are heavily invested on this important issue and all Americans are eager to leave Iraq as quickly as we’re able. But the real question is whether our elected officials will heed the advice of the brave men and women on the front lines, or if they will succumb to the public opinion polls of the day for a short-term political victory?

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at the Heritage Foundation.

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