For What Noble Cause?
Apparently David Petraeus couldn't answer the one question that America seeks.
During the Q&A round at the armed services committee, Senator John Warner, the Virginia Republican ... asked Petraeus a pointed question:
"Do you feel that [Iraq war] is making America safer"?
Petraeus paused before responding. He then said:
"I believe this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq."
That was, of course, a non-answer. And Warner wasn't going to let the general dodge the bullet. He repeated the question:
"Does the [Iraq war] make America safer?"
Petraeus replied, "I don't know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind."
I agree with Joe Sudbay, that was huge. And if there's any conscience among our press corps, that would be the A1 headline tomorrow.
Warner's was the $64,000 question of this whole proceeding, and if you combine it up with Feingold's line of questioning, asking if the fight against Al Qaeda in Pakistan is more important than the fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq, so get a picture of a war of continuing choice, where we sacrifice soldiers' lives, the strength of our military, our global leadership and our moral authority, for absolutely nothing. It's the myopia of one military commander, and one President who doesn't want history books to write that he lost a war, that is keeping our troops in harm's way.
Chris Matthews certainly jumped all over this on Hardball tonight, suggesting that this is the pivotal question. If aiding and abetting Iraq doesn't make us safer, we have no business being there. We have our troops making it safer for oil companies to make deals with regional governments in preparation for the inevitable breakup of the country, but that doesn't make us safer. You can sit there and listen to one Republican candidate after another spinning the facts about the war, but in the end, the commander of the Multinational Forces in Iraq cannot admit that this strategy improves our global security. And as Howard Fineman said tonight, that's probably because it isn't. And the military leaders in the Pentagon, the realists, will no longer be silent about that.
This is all well and good but the Democrats have been impotent in the face of the Republican attack machine. I question what they'll end up doing about it save for trying to sell the inevitable end of the surge as a drawdown in troops, just like the Republicans are doing. Fineman rightly said, "George Bush is rather cynically trying to back the Democrats into the corners of their own conscience." There is a clever mousetrap being set, where the next Democratic President sits down to chaos and the Republicans blame them, and the Democrats don't really know what to do about it. They should make sure the American people know that they stand with them, for an immediate commencement to rapid withdrawal before the end of the President's term. There is no noble cause for which our troops are fighting in Iraq. They're just trying to save one man's ego. There's no reason to back down from telling the truth.
UPDATE: Marcy Wheeler thinks Admiral Fallon should be made to answer the question. As long as Petraeus is kicking it upstairs, I agree. And Matt Yglesias thinks that the time for the Democrats to end the war has passed. And I agree with that too.
In terms of actually ending the war, I think all prospect of doing so before 2009 was more-or-less signed away when Democrats decided to accept Bush's framing of the "fund the troops" question and grant Bush an un-amended supplemental appropriation after he vetoed the amended one. Challenging that framing would have been politically challenging, but possibly doable. Having done what they did, though, it'd be extremely difficult to turn around, and there's no sign of any inclination to do so anyway.
Of course, that's the point, and the shame of the thing. I think 2008 is going to be a horrible year for incumbents.