As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Petraeus/Crocker Hearings: Armed Services

Max Bergmann and Ilan Goldenberg are liveblogging the Petraeus-Crocker hearings. Apparently I missed St. Maverick McCain's opening statement (he's the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee) and A Man Called Petraeus' opening statement. Ambassador Ryan Crocker is speaking now. Apparently Petraeus talked about largely peripheral issues like Al Qaeda in Iraq and this new boogeyman, Iranian "special groups," which were apparently responsible for all the violence in Basra. Except:

Q Hi. This is Courtney Kube from NBC again. Late last year, General Pace mentioned that -- before he left as chairman, mentioned that there was evidence that Iran had provided some weapons, munitions in Afghanistan. Have you seen any evidence of that in the past few months? Can you update us on any developments there?

GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, there's not been any military significant aid that we've seen in the last couple months. Earlier, there had been a couple of things that had come across, and again, whether that could be linked to any coordinated effort by any governments was not able to be determined. But that has not happened in the last couple of months, and it's been militarily insignificant overall.

Focusing on Iran and AQI instead of the larger problems in Iraq is completely myopic. Intra-Shiite tensions are on the rise Shiites are fleeing Baghdad, and the Mahdi Army cease-fire which has been the cause of much of the security gains in the country is in danger of dissolution. Iran is probably more entwined with the Iraqi security forces themselves than any "special groups," anyway. And the Sunni-Shiite civil war, exacerbated by Maliki's hiring of 10,000 Badr Brigade members when he told Sunni Awakening groups there were no jobs. Sectarian violence and conflict is the problem in Iraq, so Petraeus and Crocker are answering different questions.

The question and answer period should be interesting. Obviously you have every Presidential candidate among those doing the asking. But the key question will be whether the Democrats buy into the Petraeus frame of whether or not we're "winning" or if they step outside that frame and ask the key questions of whether our presence there makes America safer. Tom Dispatch puts this best.

When it comes to Iraq, though, the Bush administration's cakewalks never seem to turn out as planned. The renewed violence of these last weeks in Iraq, and the prospect of more to come, gives war critics ample ammunition for a counterattack. The Democrats, including Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, may find it irresistible to assault the general, and the President, with every argument they can muster in the hearings this week. However, a recent report suggests they may resist that impulse and treat the impact of the surge as an irrelevant issue.

Let's hope that report is right, because a debate focused on military success or failure is a trap, with Petraeus's testimony as the bait. After all, no debate in Congress will really be about the level of violence in Iraq. "Has the surge worked?" is just a symbolic way of asking: "Would you rather believe that America is a winner or a loser?" And in any battle over patriotic symbolism, the Republicans always seem to have the bigger guns.

So the Democrats would be smart to refuse the bait and insist that this is not an old-fashioned World War II- style conflict, where force can produce a clear-cut winner. Then they could refocus the debate on two crucial truths: We have no right to be in Iraq; the sooner we get out, the sooner we can begin to heal the terrible damage the war has done to us here at home.

Some of the best questions I've seen have come from some of our Democratic Congressional challengers. They could give someone like Carl Levin some pointers, although he just KILLED Gen. Petraeus on Basra, getting him to admit that it was inadequately planned, and therefore Levin railed that it was "unacceptable" to have American forces involved.

A protestor yelling out "bring them home" was applauded in the hearing room as he was escorted out. Cokie Roberts told me Americans want to win, though, so that must have just been some hippie.

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