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January 24, 2007
Petraeus: Baghdad Can Be Secured

General David Petraeus testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday in his confirmation hearing to replace General Casey as the top commander in Iraq, telling the Senators that the situation in Baghdad could be resolved with the extra troops and the new Iraqi commitment to security. He faced skepticism from both sides of the aisle, but insisted that a concerted "clear and hold" strategy with Americans in place to hold neighborhoods could give the Iraqi government the room it needs to turn the corner in the capital:

Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, President Bush’s new choice as the top commander in Iraq, told senators on Tuesday that the new military strategy to secure Baghdad can work, and that he had asked that the additional troops the administration promised be deployed as quickly as possible.

In his first public comments about Mr. Bush’s plan to send some 21,500 troops, the general described the situation in Iraq as “dire” but not hopeless. He asserted that the “persistent presence” of American and Iraqi forces in strife-ridden Baghdad neighborhoods was a necessary step, but also cautioned that the mission would not succeed if the Iraqi government did not carry out its program of political reconciliation.

“The way ahead will be neither quick nor easy, and undoubtedly there will be tough days,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We face a determined, adaptable, barbaric enemy. He will try to wait us out. In fact any such endeavor is a test of wills, and there are no guarantees.”

Petraeus understands insurgencies better than anyone else in the Pentagon. He literally wrote the book on the subject, and even the opponents of the surge acknowledge his exceptional talents as a commander. Senator Norm Coleman called him the most impressive military man he'd ever met, and the nomination of Petraeus to replace Casey brought positive reaction from most of Congress. However, his appearance had less to do with military strategy and more to do with political posturing.

John McCain and Joe Lieberman, supporting the surge, tried to draw Petraeus into the debate on the competing resolutions to express Senatorial disfavor on the new strategy. When Petraeus responded by saying that such a vote in the Senate would not send a "beneficial" message to the troops and might embolden our enemies in the field, Hillary Clinton responded that it would be beneficial in putting the Iraqi government on notice, and John Warner scolded him for interfering with a political debate -- even though he'd been expressly asked to comment on it.

The Senate routinely uses confirmation hearings for posturing on White House policy; that tradition goes back at least several generations, at least. In this case, though, it seemed as though Petraeus got caught in a game of "monkey in the middle", to borrow a phrase from James Boyce, for the upcoming presidential campaign. Instead of listening to an expert explain how the new strategy would work to help win the war against our enemies, the committee used him as a crutch to issue tired campaign slogans on both sides, and made it clear that they really had little interest in what he had to say outside of getting sound bites to support their own bumper-sticker thoughts.

It was not a dignified moment for the Senate, and one that they should regret. Their posturing overshadowed a detailed and expert presentation on the need and use of the troops in Baghdad and how their presence, combined with the Iraqis, could quell the sectarian violence in the capital and go after the al-Qaeda terrorists in Anbar, our overall enemy in the war on terror. They should leave the campaigning for the hustings.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 24, 2007 5:15 AM

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