Talking Points for the Petraeus Report

Ahead of the testimony of Army Gen. David Petraeus before Congress, the White House and the Pentagon have emphasized that Petraeus' perspective on Iraq is critical. Analysts evaluate the general's chances of persuading a skeptical Congress to stick with the so-called surge.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

You can consider it a milestone in the Iraq War or you can consider it political theater. Either way, General David Petraeus offers his views of the war today.

And NPR's Guy Raz has a preview.

GUY RAZ: A famous general once wrote about war as an extension of politics -that the two were never mutually exclusive. That famous general was the 19th century military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. He also happens to be one of General Petraeus' favorite theorists.

Von Clausewitz implied that a military leader, whether he liked it or not, was going to become part of the political equation. It's no different today. Since January, the president has mentioned General Petraeus' name in more than 50 speeches and public appearances.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm a wait to see what David has to say. I'm not going to prejudge what he may say. I trust David Petraeus' judgment.

RAZ: Leading up to Petraeus' testimony today, the White House and the Pentagon have synchronized their talking points. The general's perspective is the only one that matters, they say.

Here's a recent briefing by Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.

Mr. GEOFF MORRELL (Press Secretary, Pentagon): When I hear General Odierno, the head of the corps, talking about a reduction in overall levels of violence, and then I hear General Bergner provide the most up-to-date numbers on sectarian violence being down, I trust that.

I think the one who's going to elaborate on this more than anyone, and I think is the one who should be trusted more than anyone on this, is General Petraeus.

RAZ: And so trust - who to trust, that is, is what this week's testimony by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker boils down to.

I asked a few people who know a thing or two about the administration's Iraq strategy to offer up some advice.

Here's retired four-star General Volney Warner.

General VOLNEY WARNER (U.S. Army, Retired): Stick to the facts, don't embellish, don't get yourself in a position where you're selling the war - I think that would be a mistake.

RAZ: Next, Peter Weaver(ph), a recently retired member of the National Security Counsel who helped draft the administration's new Iraq plan.

Mr. WEAVER

(Member, National Security Counsel): If he can show with stubborn facts that there has been a change, that the security operations he's done has changed the security picture, that will go a long way, I think, to credibly explaining why it would be plausible to stick with him.

RAZ: And here's Stephen Biddle, who holds the unique position in that he's both skeptical of the chances for political success in Iraq, but he's also a regular adviser to General Petraeus.

Mr. STEPHEN BIDDLE (Military Analyst, Council on Foreign Relations; General David Petraeus' Adviser): To the extent that you're going to make a case, the surge has a decent chance. I think the way to do it would be to argue that a mechanism that was largely unanticipated, that popped up by surprise, has nonetheless popped up and created an opportunity that although unanticipated, is one that perhaps we can follow up on.

RAZ: That unanticipated opportunity Stephen Biddle describes is the increased cooperation between the U.S. military and some Sunni tribal leaders in parts of western Iraq.

General Petraeus spent his weekend rehearsing his testimony in front of what's known in military parlance as a murder board. Basically, he faced a group of general officers from the joints staff who peppered him with questions.

A source inside the Pentagon who spoke on condition of anonymity says he expects Petraeus will try and make the case for what the source describes as strategic patience. In other words, to allow the so-called surge of troops to last through its scheduled cycle.

But the source, who supports the new Iraq strategy, also conceded that the length of the surge is not tied to a hoped-for improvement in Iraq security, it's tied to how long the Army can sustain such high troop levels. General Petraeus, the source says, wants to take advantage of the high troop numbers as long as he can.

But Michele Flournoy, who's the president of the Center for a New American Security, argues that few are considering the long-term impact of longer deployments on the army.

Ms. MICHELE FLOURNOY (President, Center for a New American Security): That strain is going to produce even greater recruiting difficulties and some substantial retention problems. And that is a huge risk that we are just not adequately weighing and deciding how long to sustain this effort.

RAZ: And now, with 15-month rotations, American soldiers are serving their longest deployments since the Second World War.

Guy Raz, NPR News, Washington.

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