Analysts and media op-ed writers have spent the past couple of days dissecting and digesting the Iraq War Report presented by the US military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and his State Department sidekick, Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
Perhaps the two most significant points that those who watched the testimony will remember are (1) no plans for a troop withdrawal for the time being, and (2) Iran is to blame for everything that has gone wrong.
The testimony also contrasted sharply with earlier statements by President George W. Bush and General Petraeus about how "astonishingly normal things have become in Baghdad." One of course has to speculate on what benchmark of normalcy Washington is working to.
At the time of writing, a correspondent colleague of mine had just described by MSN a mad dash out of the Sadr City district of Baghdad after a fire-fight exploded not 10 feet from where she and other journalists were standing. The word "normalcy" did not feature in her description of events.
Coming as it does against this dramatic increase in violence in Baghdad and elsewhere, the Petraeus-Crocker testimony paints a very odd picture of normalcy -- one that in their words is "fragile and reversible."
In fact, with the exception of rhetoric-filled speeches from Bush himself, the one word we rarely, if ever hear, is that the road to peace, democracy and stability in Iraq is "irreversible."
Appearing on PressTV's political discussion program, "Middle East Today," former Senator Mike Gravel said what struck him the most was the repeated reference to "fragile and reversible."
"Obviously the tactic of bribing the Sunni warlords will fail the minute we stop bribing them. And then of course the cowardly act of blaming Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki for the failure in Basra, of saying it was all his initiative when we were totally complicit."
Gravel said the forces loyal to anti-occupation cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had proven to be much stronger than anticipated and blamed a lack of intelligence for the failure.
Astonishingly, Gravel said, there have been cases where professional Arabic and Farsi linguists have been discharged from the military because they were gay and as a consequence "our intelligence is non-existent."
Sabrina Schaeffer, a Washington-based political analyst said there are possibly two things that could be taken away from the report.
"The first is that we are making a lot of progress both politically and militarily on the ground. And second that a premature withdrawal would be a disaster, and would overturn what they described as a fragile and reversible situation on the ground," she said.
Sabah Jawad, secretary of the London-based Iraqi Democrats Against War, dismissed reports of progress.
"While there may have been some changes in the months immediately after the surge in US troop levels, in the past few days we have seen some 17 American soldiers killed since Sunday."
He said the United States is still in a quagmire in Iraq and is trying to solve its problems by flexing its muscles and urging the al-Maliki government to take stronger action, especially in the south of Iraq.
Senator Gravel also took issue with Schaeffer's upbeat assessment.
"I really don't understand how Sabrina can come and say there's progress," he said. "But what is worse is the outright lies presented to the American people that Iran is responsible for what is going on."
Gravel said Washington is trying to develop a concept of a proxy war being waged between Iran and Iraq.
"There is no evidence, none at all," he said, "And if you go in deeper into the American military, you have army officers, captains, majors, colonels, who will tell you there is no evidence at all about anything coming over the Iranian border into Iraq. But then you get Petraeus and other generals making these statements."
Gravel wondered how they could make statements that the mortars used on the heavily fortified Green Zone, for example, are coming from Iran. "These are outright lies," he said.
Gravel said he could see the same policy being employed now that was used by the US to widen the war in South East Asia some 40 years ago.
"This is what happened in Vietnam. We went in and attacked Cambodia and Laos. They had nothing to do with what was going on in Vietnam. All it did was expand a murderous part of the South East Asian War."
Gravel said Iran is a natural ally of the United States, "Iran has been helping us stabilize the situation in Iraq until we can come to our senses and get out. Our guest here Sabrina says she sees progress, but even Petraeus admitted he sees no light at the end of the tunnel."
Schaeffer took the floor to clarify what she says are some of the successes.
"I think Petraeus did an excellent job of explaining this incident in Basra, but overall we have seen a reduction in both ethnic and sectarian violence, terrorist attacks are down, the Iraqis are controlling half of their 18 provinces, and we are seeing that al-Qaida in Iraq has significantly diminished," she said, "And I think we can give credit to the troop surge and Petraeus' experience in counterinsurgency intelligence. So I don't think we can underestimate the improvements that are taking place on the ground."
The recent surge in violence, especially in Sadr City that continued over the weekend would not immediately support these views, with correspondents on the scene saying that for the first time they are quite openly seeing snipers on the roofs of buildings and more disturbances on the streets.
Gravel dismissed suggestions that the surge or Petraeus' expertise was responsible for the pre-Basra reduction in the insurgency across Iraq. Gravel said the reduction had been bought with US taxpayer money and that the relative calm would end as quickly as the money did.
"Do you know how much money Petraeus has been handing out to Sunni warlords?" he asked. "To suppress the violence. Do you really have any idea?"
Schaeffer said she acknowledged there is an impulse to want to put a price tag on the cost of the war, but that doing so, or putting a time-line on how long the war would take, "is just irresponsible."
Jawad, taking much the same line as Gravel, was deaf to any claims of progress.
"I will tell you of the successes in Iraq," he said, "One million killed by the US occupation, five million dispersed people internally and externally. More than a million widows, five million orphans, 150,000 people arrested in centres run by the United States in Iraq, and there is a catalogue of catastrophes inflicted on the people of Iraq by this war. And the sooner they withdraw," he added, "the better for all of us."
Schaeffer argued that the picture being painted that the US forces were universally unwelcome was misleading and pointed out that the Iraqi government has vocalised and demonstrated its long-term commitment to cooperation to achieve final and lasting peace and democracy in Iraq.
Gravel, citing independent opinion polls, begged to differ.
"This is an army of occupation, and if you look at the polls the people of Iraq overwhelmingly want us to leave," he said, "and we should honour that."
Gravel said the United States invaded Iraq on the back of fraud and lies by the Bush administration: "This is criminal of the order that should go to the world criminal court."
The former Senator from Alaska said the only way to achieve stability would be for the United States to admit error, and then go to Iraq's neighbours, including Iran, and ask for their help in bringing stability to Iraq.
"Here you have President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who I don't have any particular truck with by the way, but he goes to Iraq and he is more popular than any American official."
The American leader, Gravel said, goes to Iraq and he has to sneak around in the dark of night with total security. "Ahmadinejad goes in there and he is treated as a friend, does that not communicate something to anyone?"
Continuing the war under the illusion that progress is being made, Gravel said, is indicative of how out of touch Bush really is.
"George Bush is not on this planet, truthfully," Gravel said, "He really has no sense of reality of what is going on. Last week he told the American people we are not in a recession, while Alan Greenspan a day later said we were, and this is something the American people know. Bush is divorced from reality whether it's about Iraq, Iran or the economy. He is not plugged into reality."
Gravel said Washington's apparent policy to attack Iran could possibly trigger a nuclear exchange.
Gravel's concerns were shared by Schaeffer, "I think the point that attacking Iran might trigger a nuclear war is what's concerning the Bush administration. We have to take the actions and rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad very seriously. It would be irresponsible not to do so. And I think we have to remember this is a man who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, a man who has denied the Holocaust."
She said here is a man who has vowed to knock down global powers, and we have to assume that he's pointing his finger at the United States.
Schaeffer's comment regarding "wiping Israel off the map" is an oft-quoted mistranslation, but one frequently used to attack Iran's president and his policies.
"Actually he did not say he would wipe Israel off the map," Jawad explained. "This statement has been corrected but it is still repeated by US officials. He did not say this, but I am not surprised to hear this repeated all the time."Former Senator blasts US occupation during lively television debate on Iraq
The actual statement made by Ahmadinejad called for the "removal of the Zionist regime in Jerusalem from the pages of history." Many experts say that you can "assume" or "infer" Ahmadinejad's real intentions are to wipe Israel off the map, but the simple fact remains, he did not say it. They point out that Washington's aim in invading Iraq was to wipe the Baathist regime in Baghdad from the pages of history, but not to wipe Iraq off the map.
One of the cornerstones of the Petraeus-Crocker report was what they described as the "malign Iranian involvement in Iraq" and Tehran's support for special groups that target American troops and other coalition interests in the country.
President Bush later told a select group at a press conference that America would do what was necessary to prevent Iranian interference in Iraq, a thinly veiled threat of military action.
But Gravel said to his knowledge, there is still no substantiated evidence that Iran is playing a military role in the insurgency.
"It is being fabricated by the White House and being bought into by some of these senior military leaders. This is all part of the neocon plan to gain hegemony, economic hegemony in the Middle East, and that is American imperialism that we have to reverse."
Schaeffer acknowledges that the engagement and cooperation of Iraq's neighbours is an important factor in the eventual stabilisation of Iraq and its efforts to achieve peace and democracy.
"But I think, for instance, when Senator Obama talks about opening up diplomatic channels with President Ahmadinejad, I think just helps to legitimise a leader that unfortunately has been irresponsible in his rhetoric."
But as Senator Gravel pointed out earlier in the discussion, being irresponsible in his rhetoric is a description that could just as easily be applied to Bush.
The broadcast version of the debate can be viewed on the PressTV archive