US Iraq deaths chartThe chart at left (click on it to enlarge) was compiled by The Washington Monthly’s Kevin Drum in response to Juan Cole’s assessment of claims the surge is a “success.” I guess the President’s sneak visit to Iraq this morning, aside from detracting from traditional labor day speeches that would otherwise pound this Administration for what it has and hasn’t done to/for working people and their families, is to deflect attention from the emerging facts on the ground in Iraq.

It’s no surprise that General Petraeus has already given a preview of “his report” to President Bush. After all, if the White House is planning to write Petraeus’ report, they should probably get their stories straight before Petraeus goes on Fox News or before another private briefing to the Republican caucus. Buried in Sunday’s New York Times, we find this David Sanger article:

During Mr. Bush’s visit to the Pentagon on Friday, he also heard a presentation by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, that appeared to preview much of what he will tell Congress when he gives his Iraq progress report scheduled in nine days.

According to Sanger’s senior Administration sources, the essence of what the President heard is that the best thing he and Petraeus can report to Congress is that the Administration got lucky . . . by failing. With absolutely no help from the “surge” of 30,000 extra troops, but due exclusively to having given up trying to impose a Shia-dominated central government on al Anbar Province, Petraeus allowed the Sunni resistance to take de facto control of their region. As a result, the US now finds the rebellious Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar Province cooperating with the Americans in ridding their region of their more extremist al Qaeda rivals.

Since giving up on central control is completely contrary to the surge’s goal of strengthening the central government’s hand so that it could achieve political accommodation, this concession needed a positive sounding name: the Administration calls it “bottom up reconciliation,” which makes sense only if the Sunnis and Shia central government are actually reconciled to each other — but of course, they’re not and there’s no evidence they will be in the near future.

This explains why, as Sanger reports, one of the two main topics of the briefing was how to get around al Maliki’s government to reward America’s new-found Sunni allies, since the pro-Iranian al Maliki thinks it’s crazy to be giving money (e.g., to buy arms) and economic development assistance to an armed Sunni resistance that still wants to oust the Shia-dominated central government. So the Administration is scrounging around State and Defense Department accounts for pay-off money, because, as the British Generals reminded us on their way out of Basra this weekend, Rumsfeld persistently vetoed the plans for supporting this kind of accommodation. And al Maliki no doubt remembers that these are the same people who have been killing Shia in other regions and whom Cheney and Rumsfeld once called “terrorists” and “dead enders” in their “last throes.”

“This is all about finding ways to circumvent Maliki,” said one senior official who is involved in preparing Mr. Bush’s presentation of a new strategy, which will probably come in an address to the country after General Petraeus and the American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, have presented their report to Congress starting on Sept. 10. “We can’t go to the Hill again and say Maliki will perform if we just give him the space. He won’t. So you find other means to accomplish the goal.” [emphasis mine]

Translation: the surge “give ‘em space” plan failed. But that Administration concession was not as jaw dropping as this one from the same officials on the same briefings, tucked innocuously in another Sanger piece on another topic in the Times’ The World section (Times Select):

“It quickly became a discussion of the political and economic rewards we can encourage, rather than the math of how many forces we need to keep there,” said one official. He wondered aloud whether the United States would still be in Iraq if “we had the same conversation four summers ago.”

Translation: the Bush Administration now leaks statements admitting that their incompetence, arrogance and muddled thinking extended the US occupation for years.

Why would the White House leak such statements? My guess is that the White House believes that implicitly conceding four years of terrible judgments, and admitting the decision to throw 30,000 additional troops into Iraq was a mistake, don’t matter. They think they’ve “won,” not in Iraq where the infrastructure is in shambles, there are 1.1 million more people uprooted from their homes this year, health conditions are deteriorating, and the violence far worse than 2006, but in Washington. And winning in Washington no matter how bad things are in Iraq means they can continue to do whatever they want subject only to the constraint that they have to withdraw the 30,000 surgers because they can’t sustain them beyond next April.

So the only real discussion is not with Congress but inside the Pentagon, about whether to start drawing down troops a little at a time, starting now, or a brigade a month early next year. Better to do a little at a time now rather than face questions about why they’re giving up on the “gains” they claim resulted from having more troops.

And all this can be done in their own sweet time, while soldiers continue to die, because Congress, just like the Iraq Parliament, behaves as though they no longer matter. And if you behave that way, you really don’t matter.

Update: Newsweek explains another reason why Petraeus can claim sectarian killings are “down in Baghdad” — because the Shia militias have essentially driven the Sunnis out of large parts of the city, or forced them to live behind concrete protective barriers. “Sectarian cleansing” has succeeded where the surge couldn’t. And Steve Clemons finds corroboration from Nir Rosen, via CNN.