Thursday, April 10, 2008

What We Want to Hear vs What We Need to Hear

The patient has not been doing well, feeling his aches and pains for weeks now, far too long. Nervously, he waits in his doctor’s office. The doctor enters with his charts and test results in hand. The doc wants to tell his patient what his patient wants to hear but the doc knows he must tell his patient what his patient needs to hear. Hiding the painful truth is not in his patient's best interset. With proper care the patient may recover.

Likewise, this week General David Petraeus has returned to Washington to report on progress in Iraq. Much of it was not what members of Congress wanted to hear. This time is telling in that his assessment is cast as giving form to the upcoming presidential debate on the question of Iraq and troop withdrawal.

Like the war or not, support it or not, we are in Iraq and our president, Congress and presidential candidates must deal with the issue. In my view General Petraeus is the right man for the job he has as top military commander in Iraq. With a Ph.D. from Princeton University in international relations, he can parry with the best of them. As a general, he has had innovative ideas and modest successes there, more so than others.

Alas, he is not telling the Senators on the Armed Services or Foreign Relations Committees what they want to hear…American troops can leave Iraq, if not now, then on such and such a date under such and such conditions. He will not commit.

Republican presumptive presidential candidate John McCain is on board with that assessment and tells us too what we do not like to hear. The troops cannot be withdrawn until we know that Iraq is secured. We will know it when we see it is the frustrating but probably correct answer Petraeus offers. The two Democratic contenders are saying the troops should leave, one wanting to start the process forthwith… one making the plan for withdrawal contingent on our dealings with Iran which instigates a fair amount of trouble throughout the region and notably in Iraq. Sounds like a reasonable consideration too.

Of course, Americans want their troops home. How to best achieve that without making Iraqi’s vulnerable to being victims of another massacre of the type we saw in Cambodia after our withdrawal from Vietnam or establishing fertile grounds for another Afghanistan to take shape as we did when America pulled out after the defeat of the Soviet Union is at the heart of the issue. Americans don’t want to hear about genocides or 9/11 attacks in the aftermath of withdrawing from an unstable Iraq either. Today’s Japan, Germany and South Korea are testaments to the national security and world- wide benefits achieved by extended American support after wars in contrast to popularly demanded but perhaps premature withdrawals. America needs to be careful not to be pennywise and pound- foolish. Patience is a virtue.

As the presidential candidates’ debate on Iraq centers on Petraeus’ assessments, it is our job to separate what we want to hear from what we need to hear to do right by Iraq, America and the world as we cast our votes.

The opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the author.

Stay tuned.

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