General McCaffrey's Strange Report

Michael Yon is a heroic combat reporter who has posted an astonishing "after action report" by General Barry McCaffrey (US Army, ret.), nominally written for United States Military Academy, but immediately leaked to the press. The report is based on McCaffrey's visit to Iraq, talking pretty much to the whole US chain of command. It is therefore both very expert militarily --- and very weird. In fact, it sounds like it was written by a seriously bipolar military expert. The first half  --- called The Problem --- is totally dark and pessimistic. The second half --- called The Current Effort, referring to the new "surge," led by General Petraeus --- is  consistently hopeful.

It begins,
"Since the arrival of General David Petraeus in command of Multi-National Force Iraq- the situation on the ground has clearly and measurably improved."
And it concludes:
"In my judgment, we can still achieve our objective of a stable Iraq, at peace with its neighbors, not producing weapons of mass destruction, and fully committed to a law-based government."
Wow. That was fast. The "surge" is barely under way, and suddenly the sun is shining. It sounds like Patton before the Battle of the Bulge. Things are desperate but not serious.

Needless to say, the press immediately jumped on the first half and ignored the second. The blogosphere has access to the whole thing, and hopefully we'll get some intelligent commentary going.

I'm just stunned by the black-and-white nature of the thing, and after watching political generals and colonels strutting their stuff for the last couple of years I just can't help wondering: Is this bipolar report an exercise in CYA politics? After all, if we lose, McCaffrey has explained why. And if we win, he has pointed to those who can take the credit. (Hint: If we lose, "it's Bush's fault!" If we win, the Army brass comes out looking great.) So McCaffrey could be playing the messenger for all the Army officers whose careers are on the line.

If you look at McCaffrey's career, he's been beaten up pretty badly in the press. After Gulf War I, Seymour Hersh and the New Yorker (naturally) accused him of shooting Iraqi soldiers like fish in a barrel, without military necessity. Why Seymour Hersh is a judge of military necessity is a whole other question, but Hersh swings a huge amount of clout with the anti-military Left. McCaffrey had a very distinguished and heroic career, with a strong human rights record --- he wrote the Human Rights Code of Conduct for U.S. Military Joint Command. After the New Yorker accusation, his career was obviously in great danger, but he was cleared  by a US Army investigation.

McCaffrey was then saved by Bill Clinton, who appointed him as Drug Czar during his administration. That was very soon after his close call with Seymour Hersh. Would it be too much to suppose that General McCaffrey owes the Clintons for saving his reputation and career?

Now look at the politics of this report. George W. Bush has less than two years left in office. As the McCaffrey notes,

"This President will have the remainder of his months in office beleaguered by his political opponents to the war. The democratic control of Congress and its vocal opposition can actually provide a helpful framework within which our brilliant new Ambassador Ryan Crocker can maneuver the Maliki administration to understand their diminishing options. It is very unlikely that the US political opposition can constitutionally force the President into retreat. ... However, our next President will only have 12 months or less to get Iraq straight before he/she is forced to pull the plug."
All true, no doubt, even if "our brilliant new Ambassador" is a piece of outrageous flattery. But notice that McCaffrey has provided cover for the US brass regardless who is elected in 2008 --- especially Hillary. Politically, McCaffrey has joined the media narrative of a Bush disaster in Iraq.  If Hillary becomes President, she can take the credit for the dazzling recovery from disaster --- if everything turns out all right. And if it doesn't, well we know whom to blame. 

As Gen. McCaffrey might say, he's written  a "brilliant" report. You can't really blame the brass for playing politics when you consider what happens to those who put principle before self --- like Lewis Libby. But the great question is, what happens to our country if military politics and the national interest ever collide?

James Lewis blogs at