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At least this time, the Left didn't slander general David Petraeus or call him a liar (not as much, anyway). There were no 'General Betray-Us' ads or references to the 'willing suspension of disbelief'. The Left learns to censor their more hideous traits, but they usually have to step in it a time or two before they do.
There has been undeniable progress in Iraq in the seven months since Petraeus last spoke to Congress, and substantial progress in the last year since the surge started. Anyone who denies those facts is simply not being truthful. However, as Petraeus put it, the progress is "fragile and reversible." Much remains to be done, and though we all want our troops out of Iraq as soon as possible (and for you Dems out there, that includes John McCain), the idea of a fixed timetable for withdrawal is neither wise nor workable if a secure Iraqi government is our goal. Both Petraeus and Iraq ambassador Ryan Crocker made that point during their testimony yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
There's something about a group of presidential wanna-bees (that's 'bees', as in buzz, buzz) and congressional partisans making political speeches disguised as questions for Petraeus and Crocker that irks me. With the cameras rolling, the effect is magnified, since the cameras amount to free political advertisement. Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich), who opened the proceedings, personified partisanship. He downplayed the progress of the surge, acted like the recent Basra flare-up nullified it all, and mentioned every possible negative aspect of the Iraq conflict. If there was a poster boy for the attitude known as "Defeatocrat," Levin was it. Since Levin said nothing at all helpful, I'll briefly paraphrase his opening comments and move on. Levin more or less said "Bush sucks, Iraq's a mess, screw the Iraqis, let's quit." Not exactly the can-do spirit that made america great.
When Barack Obama, an intelligent man, but one who frankly knows little more about Iraq than I or any other random person who follows the events knows, offers up his opinions to Petraeus, opinions are all they are, and they'd be insignificant, except Obama could be the next president, so we have to pay attention to him. Obama has spent a grand total of two days in Iraq in his lifetime, and those were in 2006. He couldn't possibly have an iota of knowledge about Iraq in comparison to Petraeus or Crocker. I don't mean this to be a particular criticism of Obama, since pretty much the same could also be said of Hillary Clinton or John McCain. In fact, if I heard what I think I heard yesterday, McCain repeated his blunder of not knowing whether Al Qaeda is Sunni or Shia. If McCain wants to be the big boss man, he should at least know a wahabbist from a wabbit, and it seems he doesn't. An insufficient regard for the different fractious elements within Iraqi society is a large part of the reason our troops are still there 5 years later. When McCain makes this mistake, I am reminded of gross oversimplifications like Dick Cheney saying "we will be greeted as liberators." Yes, by some Iraqis we were, but most definitely not by others, and Dick, what about the post-liberation ? The Bushies went in like a bull in a china shop, but didn't appear to know the first damned thing about what they were getting into, given the ensuing events.
Since Obama is the likely Democratic nominee for president, here's a link to a transcript of Obama questioning Petraeus and Crocker, and following is a cobbling together of key parts of that testimony:
OBAMA: I just want to close with a couple of key points.
Number one, we all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq -- all of us do. And that, I think, has to be stated clearly in the record...I also think that the surge has reduced violence and provided breathing room, but that breathing room has not been taken the way we would all like it to be taken. And I think what happened in Basra is an example of Shia versus Shia jockeying for power that underscores how complicated the political situation is there and how we still have to continue to work vigorously to resolve it. I believe that we are more likely to resolve it, in your own words, Ambassador, if we are applying increased pressure in a measured way. I think that increased pressure in a measured way, in my mind -- and this is where we disagree -- includes a timetable for withdrawal. Nobody's asking for a precipitous withdrawal, but I do think that it has to be a measured but increased pressure; and a diplomatic surge that includes Iran. Because if Maliki can tolerate as normal neighbor-to-neighbor relations in Iran, then we should be talking to them as well. I do not believe we're going to be able to stabilize the position without them...Our resources are finite. And this has been made -- this is a point that just was made by Senator Voinovich, it's been made by Senator Biden, Senator Lugar, Senator Hagel. There's a bipartisan consensus that we have finite resources. Our military is overstretched, and the Pentagon has acknowledged it. The amount of money that we are spending is hemorrhaging our budget, and Al Qaida in Afghanistan I think is feeling a lot more secure as long as we're focused in Iraq and not on Afghanistan. When you have finite resources, you've got to define your goals tightly and modestly.
...It's obviously not perfect. There's still violence, there's still some traces of Al Qaida, Iran has influence more than we would like. But if we had the current status quo, and yet our troops had been drawn down to 30,000, would we consider that a success? Would that meet our criteria, or would that not be good enough and we'd have to devote even more resources to it?
CROCKER: Senator, I can't imagine the current status quo being sustainable with that kind of precipitous drawdown.
OBAMA: ...I'm not suggesting that we yank all our troops out all the way. I'm trying to get to an endpoint. That's what all of us have been trying to get to. And, see, the problem I have is if the definition of success is so high, no traces of Al Qaida and no possibility of reconstitution, a highly-effective Iraqi government, a Democratic multiethnic, multi- sectarian functioning democracy, no Iranian influence, at least not of the kind that we don't like, then that portends the possibility of us staying for 20 or 30 years.
If, on the other hand, our criteria is a messy, sloppy status quo but there's not, you know, huge outbreaks of violence, there's still corruption, but the country is struggling along, but it's not a threat to its neighbors and it's not an Al Qaida base, that seems to me an achievable goal within a measurable timeframe, and that, I think, is what everybody here on this committee has been trying to drive at, and we haven't been able to get as clear of an answer as we would like.
CROCKER: And that's because, Senator, is a -- I mean, I don't like to sound like a broken record, but this is hard and this is complicated.
I think that when Iraq gets to the point that it can carry forward its further development without a major commitment of U.S. forces, with still a lot of problems out there but where they and we would have a fair certitude that, again, they can drive it forward themselves without significant danger of having the whole thing slip away from them again, then, clearly, our profile, our presence diminishes markedly.
But that's not where we are now.
The first thing I'd take exception with is Obama saying they all [Democrats] want a successful resolution in Iraq. Many of his comrades most certainly do NOT care about that. Many of them just want to get out of Iraq, with little regard for the consequences. Obama himself voted to stop funding the war last year, and he also voted to start a troop withdrawal that, had it been adopted, would have had all our troops out by now. Thus, Obama is being disingenuous when he says nobody is advocating a "precipitous withdrawal.' Obama himself advocated that.
Secondly, nobody has ever said that Iraq has to become the perfect society with no traces of Al Qaeda and no traces of sectarian violence before US troops pull out. Obama is building a straw man argument there. What has always been the stated goal is for the USA to stand down as the Iraqi forces stand up. That is where the difficulty has lain, and no formally announced public withdrawal timetable is going to assist in that effort. Even if we get to a place where a withdrawal timetable is set, there is no advantage in making it public, other than to some politicians who want to take credit and garner some support from it. I also keep hearing Democrat after Democrat being all indignant that Bush will leave Iraq for the next president (who they presume will be a Democrat) to deal with. Yes, that's probably so, Dems. Deal with it. Your party is not more important than the country.