twin towers 88.
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September 10 has been robbed of its importance as a day on its own accord, now deriving its significance from proximity to the date it precedes. Yet Monday dawned with the opportunity for it to redeem some of its own historical heft, as it was the occasion for long-awaited reports expected to change the course of the Iraq war.
Those reports came amid the shadows still cast by the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, shadows intensified by a war in Iraq that has divided the country even as the destruction of New York's Twin Towers once unified it.
The specter of terror is as black as ever, with the surfacing of a new Osama bin Laden video and another promised for Tuesday, though perhaps just as troubling for the American people is the shade of gray surrounding the course that their leaders have chosen - in Afghanistan but most importantly in Iraq - as the major course for pursuing the war on terror.
The promise of this September 10 was that it might provide some clarity, that whether the forecast was grim or hopeful, the clouds would part enough for a glimpse at an honest assessment of where things stand. And that that ray of light could then be used to formulate the best strategy on where to go from here.
Ever since last winter, when he announced the "surge" of US troops in Iraq, President George W. Bush has held out September as an appropriate time to assess how that strategy has addressed a vicious insurgency and growing sectarian violence. To that end, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the multinational force in Iraq, and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, testified before Congress Monday in "what might be the most important [committee] meeting of the year," in the words of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Missouri), who presided over the hearing.
Yet already that morning the media were reporting contradictory interpretations of the two officials' assessments hours before they offered their reports.
A day earlier, on Fox News Sunday, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina declared, "I am very pleased with the results of the surge. There's local political reconciliation. The people in Iraq are war-weary. It won't be long till Baghdad politicians follow through with major reconciliation. In my opinion, I think it has worked."
His co-guest, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, countered that political reconciliation hasn't worked and the surge "is not sustainable."
To some extent, these and other politicians were playing politics as usual, as Republicans have largely opposed a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, while most Democrats have been pushing for a quicker return of US troops.
But at the same time, the assessments presented before the House on Monday were themselves mixed, with both Petraeus and Crocker acknowledging the complexity of the situation in Iraq.
"The military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met," Petraeus said. He suggested some troops would be able to come home beginning next year, but later added that fulfilling those objectives would be "neither quick nor easy" and that "a premature drawdown of our troops would likely have devastating consequences."
Crocker said "a secure, stable, democratic Iraq at peace with its neighbors will be possible" but pointed to the "enormity of the challenges" and noted setbacks such as a lack of legislation framing political reconciliation and power-sharing.
As Crocker and Petraeus both hit notes of equivocation, their nuanced assessments provide something of a Rorschach test for where one stands on the war.
Several surveys conducted over the past week yielded diverging results when it comes to Iraq and the war on terror, with CNN reporting that 54 percent of Americans think the surge has failed and 40% think it's working, while a New York Times/CBS survey found that 35% think it has made the situation better while 53% think it's having no impact.
The extensive New York Times/CBS poll found pronounced mixed feelings. For instance, while 62% said the war was a mistake and 59% said it was not worth the American lives lost, only 22% said all American troops should be withdrawn within the next years. Twenty percent said they should stay until there is a stable democracy in Iraq, while 58% think there should be some withdrawals, depending on the situation and the need to fight terror and protect American diplomats.
So those looking for clear conclusions and direction on Iraq found little solace in the events of September 10, 2007, with all the continuing divisions they revealed.
In fact, the only thing that showed a high degree of consensus was a Zogby survey finding that 81% of Americans see the September 11 attacks as the most significant historical event of their lifetime. For that reason, September 10 will continued to hold a place in the national consciousness as well.