General Petraeus Reports

Today General David Petraeus, commander of coalition forces in Iraq and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker will be sworn in to testify under oath to a joint session of the House Armed Services and International Relations committees on the status of the war in Iraq.  Tomorrow they’ll parallel todays session before Senate committees.  Will the Democrats listen, or will they turn it these sessions into mud-slinging show trials like the confirmation hearings for Justice Alito?

Because the Democrats don’t have the votes to force a change, the Petraeus and Crocker reports will almost certainly not result in any major change in President Bush’s policy.  Democrats spent the last week doing two things:  first, renewing their attacks on Gen. Petraeus’ credibility and, second, denying the facts on the ground that show the surge has begun to accomplish its goal.

It’s easy to tell who is writing the Dems’ script.  They’re still robotically parroting the New York Times’ line on Iraq.  In his Friday column, Paul Krugman took a swing at Gen. Petraeus: “Gen. Petraeus has a history of making wildly overoptimistic assessments of progress in Iraq that happen to be convenient for his political masters.” Later that day, playing ventriloquist’s dummy for Pinch Sulzberger,  Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid said , “[Petraeus has] made a number of statements over the years that have not proven to be factual.” As I wrote a few weeks ago, Reid’s attacks on Petraeus’ credibility has only served to damage his own. 
The Democrats are undergoing a rhetorical Chernobyl, trying to appease the antiwar crowd that is trashing them daily for not stopping the war by now.  In a Friday interview, a senior Republican senator told me that the Dems are stuck on their own flypaper: the hard left is mad at them because there are more troops there now than there were in January when they took over.  He’s right. The Dems promised the lefties they’d force President Bush to change, but they are divided so badly (there are enough Dems who aren’t impervious to facts that Pelosi and Reid can’t corral them) that nothing can be forced on the President so long as Republicans stay more or less united.  What the Dems can’t seem to understand is that America is not opposing the war: America wants to stop fighting for democracy in Iraq and wants to win the war against the terrorist states.

The Dems have never been too fond of facts, but more and more of their rhetoric is completely detached from reality. Last Wednesday Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “Let me be clear: The violence in Anbar has gone down despite the surge, not because of the surge.” 

Cong. Duncan Hunter – whose Marine son has served in Iraq and is now in Afghanistan — told me Saturday that Schumer’s remark insults every Marine who has shed blood and sweat in Anbar Province. Hunter is right, but even Schumer’s outrageousness won’t appease the hard-core libs who want action now to stop the war.  Consider the parallels between these two statements:

You, the men and women elected with the simplest of directions — Stop The War — have traded your strength, your bargaining position, and the uniform support of those who elected you… for a handful of magic beans. You may trot out every political cliché from the soft-soap, inside-the-beltway dictionary of boilerplate sound bites, about how this is the “beginning of the end” of Mr. Bush’s “carte blanche” in Iraq, about how this is a “first step.” Well, Senator Reid, the only end at its beginning… is our collective hope that you and your colleagues would do what is right, what is essential, what you were each elected and re-elected to do.


…after several years of the tragedies of this war, the majority [of Americans] want it stopped.  Thus [they] elected the Democratic Party for this purpose but the Democrats haven’t made a move worth mentioning. On the contrary, they continue to agree to the spending of tens of billions to continue the killing and war there, which has led to the vast majority of [Americans] being afflicted with disappointment.

The first is from MSNBC’s screeching hyperlib Keith Olbermann (May 24, 2007) and the second is excerpted from last week’s videotaped statement of Usama bin Laden.  To be fair, Schumer’s statement is more radical (and even less factual) than bin Laden’s.  (Has UBL hired Dennis Kucinich’s speech writers?)

We don’t know the details of what Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker will say, but we can venture an educated guess.  As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told me Friday, Petraeus is a straight-shooter.  McConnell said, “I think he’ll give us the facts.  The big unknown is whether the general and the administration will recommend some kind of reduction of troops over a period of time. I think that’s big item that everybody is waiting for.” 

McConnell added, “I don’t think he’s going to recommend a surrender date and any Democratic proposal for one will meet the same fate that previous such efforts have met.”

Petraeus is a real leader.  He’s not about to tell his troops one thing and Congress another.  In a letter to the soldiers in his command released last week, Petraeus said that though progress on security is uneven, American forces have the initiative.  He told the troops that, in his judgment, local reconciliation is progressing and that popular rejection of al-Queda is paralleled by rejection of extremists in Shia areas as well.  In short, the surge is working, but hasn’t yet succeeded. 

It’s very unlikely that Petraeus will ask for a troop reduction this year because he wants to use the time he has to gain the most benefit from the surge.  By March or April of next year, there will have to be a troop reduction (despite what the neocons are saying) because the force needs relief.  To stop the surge earlier would deny the troops the chance they see to succeed. 

Sentiment among the troops is probably the same as it was two years ago.  When I visited Iraq in December 2005, one youngish army colonel told me, “You want to break this army? Then break your promises to it.” Petraeus — as long as he is in command — won’t break any promise he has made.

What more can be accomplished between now and the end of President Bush’s term? 
Iraq won’t be a democracy by January 2009, if ever.  Iran and Syria, as well as Saudi Arabia, will prevent that.  But will the President at long last divorce us from the neocon war plan, taking control of the war away from the Maliki government?  There is reason to hope.

A little-reported passage in the President’s August 28 speech is something Petraeus should be asked about.  In it, the President said:

Some say Iran’s leaders are not aware of what members of their own regime are doing.  Others say Iran’s leaders are actively seeking to provoke the West.  Either way, they cannot escape responsibility for aiding attacks against coalition forces and the murder of innocent Iraqis. The Iranian regime must halt these actions.  And until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops. I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities. (emphasis added).

A White House source told me last week that both the President and the Vice President wanted that last line to be put into the speech. 

The questions for Gen. Petraeus are two that should be asked in closed session, not in public: What are you doing to confront Iran?  And what are you prepared to do, with or without the Iraqi government’s approval?