Commentary Magazine


Topic: Crocker

Frank Rich’s War Games

A few days ago the New York Times’ Frank Rich expressed pity for General David Petraeus. The Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan is working tirelessly to partner with Afghans and implement a counterinsurgency strategy while, back home, the neoconservatives—“the last cheerleaders for America’s nine-year war in Afghanistan”—are, in a tragically ironic turn, undermining his effort. The neocons, says Rich, are broadcasting their repugnant Islamophobia in the Ground Zero mosque debate. “How do you win Muslim hearts and minds in Kandahar,” he asks, “when you are calling Muslims every filthy name in the book in New York?” Let us take a moment to admire the high-mindedness of Frank Rich—an American who only wants to support the monumental effort of, as he rightly phrases it, “America’s most venerable soldier.”

Done? Good. Here’s what Rich had to say about Petraeus and counterinsurgency three years ago, back when neither could be used as a shiv in a domestic political debate. “On the sixth anniversary of the day that did not change everything, General Petraeus couldn’t say we are safer because he knows we are not.” Rich was referring to Petraeus’s September 11, 2007 appearance before Congress. “Few used their time to cross-examine General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker on their disingenuous talking points,” Rich lamented. Then came the Westmoreland comparison:

Certainly there were some eerie symmetries between General Petraeus’s sales pitch last week and its often-noted historical antecedent: Gen. William Westmoreland’s similar mission for L.B.J. before Congress on April 28, 1967. Westmoreland, too, refused to acknowledge that our troops were caught in a civil war. He spoke as well of the “repeated successes” of the American-trained South Vietnamese military and ticked off its growing number of combat-ready battalions. “The strategy we’re following at this time is the proper one,” the general assured America, and “is producing results.”

Those fabulous results delayed our final departure from Vietnam for another eight years — just short of the nine to 10 years General Petraeus has said may be needed for a counterinsurgency in Iraq.

This September 16, 2007 column is a nonpareil of miscalculation. Rich managed to get everything wrong, relevant and otherwise. From his assertion that the “surge” (in discrediting scare quotes) was a bust to his pronouncement that the American public was so down on the Iraq War that they no longer cared for war films (he didn’t see the non-political Hurt Locker coming less than a year later). But his most grievous error was doubting the probity of David Petraeus (and Ryan Crocker, for that matter). Had Rich been listening, he would have heard the plain truth of the ongoing turnaround in Iraq. Instead, he called Petraeus a liar and pronounced the war lost. You’d think that after he made himself such a flamboyant hostage to fortune, he’d be more humble about tinkering with Petraeus in print. You’d be wrong. Three years later, Rich adduces the virtue and commitment that he had once mocked and lambasts the neocons (without evidence, by the way) for undoing the good work of “poor General Petraeus.” If and when Petraeus fully turns around the effort in Afghanistan, as he did in Iraq, on whom will poor Frank Rich blame the victory?

A few days ago the New York Times’ Frank Rich expressed pity for General David Petraeus. The Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan is working tirelessly to partner with Afghans and implement a counterinsurgency strategy while, back home, the neoconservatives—“the last cheerleaders for America’s nine-year war in Afghanistan”—are, in a tragically ironic turn, undermining his effort. The neocons, says Rich, are broadcasting their repugnant Islamophobia in the Ground Zero mosque debate. “How do you win Muslim hearts and minds in Kandahar,” he asks, “when you are calling Muslims every filthy name in the book in New York?” Let us take a moment to admire the high-mindedness of Frank Rich—an American who only wants to support the monumental effort of, as he rightly phrases it, “America’s most venerable soldier.”

Done? Good. Here’s what Rich had to say about Petraeus and counterinsurgency three years ago, back when neither could be used as a shiv in a domestic political debate. “On the sixth anniversary of the day that did not change everything, General Petraeus couldn’t say we are safer because he knows we are not.” Rich was referring to Petraeus’s September 11, 2007 appearance before Congress. “Few used their time to cross-examine General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker on their disingenuous talking points,” Rich lamented. Then came the Westmoreland comparison:

Certainly there were some eerie symmetries between General Petraeus’s sales pitch last week and its often-noted historical antecedent: Gen. William Westmoreland’s similar mission for L.B.J. before Congress on April 28, 1967. Westmoreland, too, refused to acknowledge that our troops were caught in a civil war. He spoke as well of the “repeated successes” of the American-trained South Vietnamese military and ticked off its growing number of combat-ready battalions. “The strategy we’re following at this time is the proper one,” the general assured America, and “is producing results.”

Those fabulous results delayed our final departure from Vietnam for another eight years — just short of the nine to 10 years General Petraeus has said may be needed for a counterinsurgency in Iraq.

This September 16, 2007 column is a nonpareil of miscalculation. Rich managed to get everything wrong, relevant and otherwise. From his assertion that the “surge” (in discrediting scare quotes) was a bust to his pronouncement that the American public was so down on the Iraq War that they no longer cared for war films (he didn’t see the non-political Hurt Locker coming less than a year later). But his most grievous error was doubting the probity of David Petraeus (and Ryan Crocker, for that matter). Had Rich been listening, he would have heard the plain truth of the ongoing turnaround in Iraq. Instead, he called Petraeus a liar and pronounced the war lost. You’d think that after he made himself such a flamboyant hostage to fortune, he’d be more humble about tinkering with Petraeus in print. You’d be wrong. Three years later, Rich adduces the virtue and commitment that he had once mocked and lambasts the neocons (without evidence, by the way) for undoing the good work of “poor General Petraeus.” If and when Petraeus fully turns around the effort in Afghanistan, as he did in Iraq, on whom will poor Frank Rich blame the victory?

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Petraeus Backs Obama Timeline

Gen. David Petraeus probably had no choice. His predecessor was fired for failure to show proper respect for civilian control of the military. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that Petraeus in his confirmation hearing not only agreed with but enthused over Obama’s timeline for withdrawal of troops (“Not only did I say that I supported it, I said that I agreed with it”), parroting the administration line that it lends “urgency” to the operation. This is, of course, precisely what overly optimistic observers who support the Afghanistan war effort were hoping would not occur. They imagined that Petraeus would prevail upon Obama to lift the deadline; instead, the general was obliged to re-enforce it.

We see once again that there is no substitute for a clear-headed commander in chief. Petraeus was successful in Iraq because he had the right strategy and a president who supported him fully. Had Petraeus not been given Ambassador Crocker to work with and had he not been given a wholehearted and, yes, open-ended commitment from the commander in chief, he might very well have failed.

Petraeus could have said to Obama that he wouldn’t take the job given the timeline — and he still could resign if it remains firmly in place. But at least for now he has chosen to operate with the ball and chain around his ankle. We should hope that this is not an indication of his ability or determination to insist that competent and effective civilian leaders replace Richard Holbrooke and Karl Eikenberry.

The president — only the president — can decide to do what is needed to win a war. Whoever accepts the assignment to run the Afghan operation puts his own career and reputation at stake by agreeing to work under conditions that are widely regarded as inimical to victory. If Petraeus can promptly persuade Obama to remove those conditions and the personnel who will impede success, he will do his country and his troops an immense service. If not, he has set himself and those he commands up for failure.

Gen. David Petraeus probably had no choice. His predecessor was fired for failure to show proper respect for civilian control of the military. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that Petraeus in his confirmation hearing not only agreed with but enthused over Obama’s timeline for withdrawal of troops (“Not only did I say that I supported it, I said that I agreed with it”), parroting the administration line that it lends “urgency” to the operation. This is, of course, precisely what overly optimistic observers who support the Afghanistan war effort were hoping would not occur. They imagined that Petraeus would prevail upon Obama to lift the deadline; instead, the general was obliged to re-enforce it.

We see once again that there is no substitute for a clear-headed commander in chief. Petraeus was successful in Iraq because he had the right strategy and a president who supported him fully. Had Petraeus not been given Ambassador Crocker to work with and had he not been given a wholehearted and, yes, open-ended commitment from the commander in chief, he might very well have failed.

Petraeus could have said to Obama that he wouldn’t take the job given the timeline — and he still could resign if it remains firmly in place. But at least for now he has chosen to operate with the ball and chain around his ankle. We should hope that this is not an indication of his ability or determination to insist that competent and effective civilian leaders replace Richard Holbrooke and Karl Eikenberry.

The president — only the president — can decide to do what is needed to win a war. Whoever accepts the assignment to run the Afghan operation puts his own career and reputation at stake by agreeing to work under conditions that are widely regarded as inimical to victory. If Petraeus can promptly persuade Obama to remove those conditions and the personnel who will impede success, he will do his country and his troops an immense service. If not, he has set himself and those he commands up for failure.

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A Good Move. Now…

Obama’s decision to accept Gen. Stanley McChyrstal’s resignation was not unexpected. By bringing back Gen. David Petraeus, he assuages the concerns from supporters of the Afghanistan mission as to whether we are committed to victory. There are two more essential changes required.

First, McChrystal threw the curtain open on the dysfunctional and counterproductive civilian team in Afghanistan. Richard Holbrooke and Karl Eikenberry should be canned. If Petraeus had those two instead of Ambassador Crocker, it’s not clear we would have achieved as much as we have in Iraq. Congress needs to step up to the plate, assert itself, and begin hearings if the president is intent on leaving the malefactors in place.

Second, a wise reader likes to tell me, “Generals should only talk to their troops.” What a fine idea. No magazine spreads. No waxing philosophical on areas beyond their expertise. Yes, in this day and age they must testify before Congress and conduct some overseas diplomacy. But less is more, and a great deal that is said in public should be kept behind closed doors. Generals didn’t get where they are by being self-effacing or by taking direction from subordinates — so they imagine they can opine on any and all topics and win over the public, ingratiate themselves with their civilian bosses, and make an impression upon allies and foes. The chances of something going wrong are great, and the apology tour rarely undoes the damage.

So Gen. Petraeus should go win the war, Holbrooke and Eikenberry should go home, and Obama should fix the damage his own timeline has done by lifting it and making it clear that we are in this to win it. And please, generals, share your wisdom primarily with the troops or behind closed doors.

Obama’s decision to accept Gen. Stanley McChyrstal’s resignation was not unexpected. By bringing back Gen. David Petraeus, he assuages the concerns from supporters of the Afghanistan mission as to whether we are committed to victory. There are two more essential changes required.

First, McChrystal threw the curtain open on the dysfunctional and counterproductive civilian team in Afghanistan. Richard Holbrooke and Karl Eikenberry should be canned. If Petraeus had those two instead of Ambassador Crocker, it’s not clear we would have achieved as much as we have in Iraq. Congress needs to step up to the plate, assert itself, and begin hearings if the president is intent on leaving the malefactors in place.

Second, a wise reader likes to tell me, “Generals should only talk to their troops.” What a fine idea. No magazine spreads. No waxing philosophical on areas beyond their expertise. Yes, in this day and age they must testify before Congress and conduct some overseas diplomacy. But less is more, and a great deal that is said in public should be kept behind closed doors. Generals didn’t get where they are by being self-effacing or by taking direction from subordinates — so they imagine they can opine on any and all topics and win over the public, ingratiate themselves with their civilian bosses, and make an impression upon allies and foes. The chances of something going wrong are great, and the apology tour rarely undoes the damage.

So Gen. Petraeus should go win the war, Holbrooke and Eikenberry should go home, and Obama should fix the damage his own timeline has done by lifting it and making it clear that we are in this to win it. And please, generals, share your wisdom primarily with the troops or behind closed doors.

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Dueling with Andrew Sullivan

A couple of days ago Andrew Sullivan wrote, “This week Peter Wehner read Newsweek‘s Iraq cover story and declared victory.” He added this:

How many times has Pete Wehner declared victory? I’ll be covering the elections this weekend with purple fingers crossed. But I remain a pessimist on Iraq, which is always a safe thing to be.

The answer to Andrew’s question is: none. In virtually every posting I have done on Iraq, I have inserted necessary qualifiers, as I did in the piece Sullivan links to. I wrote, for example, that “the successes there remain fragile and can still be undone. Iraq has proven to be treacherous terrain for foreign powers.” I added, “Nothing is guaranteed; ‘Everything in Iraq is hard,’ Ambassador Crocker once said.”

My points were rather different from what Andrew says, and fairly obvious. They were that: (a) the progress in Iraq has been truly remarkable, especially when one considers where things were at the end of 2006; (b) the “emergence of politics” that we are seeing in Iraq is unprecedented in the Arab world; (c) President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy was right, wise, and politically courageous; (d) the opponents of the surge were wrong and in some instances irresponsible; and (e) the surge is one of the greatest military turnabouts in American military history. None of these assertions is really in dispute. Neither is the claim that Iraq is on the mend.

What eventually happens in Iraq is impossible to know; it increasingly depends on the Iraqis, themselves. We will see what unfolds in the months and years ahead. It will take at least that long before a final judgment can be rendered. But what we do know is that America has given Iraq a chance to succeed, to live in freedom, to be free of a sadistic ruler. And doing that was, in fact, a noble act by our nation. Why is Sullivan reluctant to acknowledge this, even as one can still debate the wisdom of the war itself?

I will leave the last word to Sullivan’s Atlantic colleague Jeffrey Goldberg, who put things this way: “Andrew Sullivan doesn’t know that much about the Middle East.”

A couple of days ago Andrew Sullivan wrote, “This week Peter Wehner read Newsweek‘s Iraq cover story and declared victory.” He added this:

How many times has Pete Wehner declared victory? I’ll be covering the elections this weekend with purple fingers crossed. But I remain a pessimist on Iraq, which is always a safe thing to be.

The answer to Andrew’s question is: none. In virtually every posting I have done on Iraq, I have inserted necessary qualifiers, as I did in the piece Sullivan links to. I wrote, for example, that “the successes there remain fragile and can still be undone. Iraq has proven to be treacherous terrain for foreign powers.” I added, “Nothing is guaranteed; ‘Everything in Iraq is hard,’ Ambassador Crocker once said.”

My points were rather different from what Andrew says, and fairly obvious. They were that: (a) the progress in Iraq has been truly remarkable, especially when one considers where things were at the end of 2006; (b) the “emergence of politics” that we are seeing in Iraq is unprecedented in the Arab world; (c) President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy was right, wise, and politically courageous; (d) the opponents of the surge were wrong and in some instances irresponsible; and (e) the surge is one of the greatest military turnabouts in American military history. None of these assertions is really in dispute. Neither is the claim that Iraq is on the mend.

What eventually happens in Iraq is impossible to know; it increasingly depends on the Iraqis, themselves. We will see what unfolds in the months and years ahead. It will take at least that long before a final judgment can be rendered. But what we do know is that America has given Iraq a chance to succeed, to live in freedom, to be free of a sadistic ruler. And doing that was, in fact, a noble act by our nation. Why is Sullivan reluctant to acknowledge this, even as one can still debate the wisdom of the war itself?

I will leave the last word to Sullivan’s Atlantic colleague Jeffrey Goldberg, who put things this way: “Andrew Sullivan doesn’t know that much about the Middle East.”

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Al Qaeda Weakening . . .

In a story from the Associated Press we read this:

The Al Qaeda terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago, the acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who assumed interim command of U.S. Central Command on March 28, acknowledged that Al Qaeda remains a relentless foe and has not disappeared as a serious threat to stability. But he said an accelerated U.S. and Iraq campaign to pressure Al Qaeda has paid big dividends. “Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted Al Qaeda, probably to a level that we haven’t seen at any time in my experience,” said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

And this:

Earlier Wednesday, the Army general who oversees U.S. commando operations in the Middle East said that Al Qaeda in Iraq has yet to be vanquished but is increasingly running out of places where local Iraqis will accommodate the group’s extremist ideology. “Is he still a lethal and dangerous threat to us? Absolutely,” Maj. Gen. John Mulholland said in an interview with reporters at the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command, the organization with global responsibility for providing Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other commandos to combat terrorism. . . . Mulholland acknowledged that Al Qaeda, which U.S. intelligence says is led by foreign terrorists but is populated mainly by local Iraqis seeking to establish a radical Islamic state, still poses a major challenge in the Mosul area of northern Iraq and has occasionally slipped back into areas like Anbar province in western Iraq. “Do we think he can at least try to regain a foothold in Anbar province? Yes, we do think he’s trying to do that,” Mulholland said. While U.S. officials do not believe Al Qaeda is succeeding in re-establishing a significant presence in Anbar – which the group was forced to abandon a year ago as local Sunni Arabs turned violently against it – it does appear that small Al Qaeda cells can still slip into isolated areas and make trouble, he said. “I don’t want to paint a picture – or to convey to you in any way – that Al Qaeda in Iraq is being completely destroyed or rendered irrelevant, because that’s not the case,” he said. “They are still potentially a threat capable of death and destruction against the Iraqi people and our own forces there. But it is not something he can do easily any more.”

This news should be seen within the context of Max’s post earlier today in which he points out that the number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month. And that news, in turn, follows on progress we’ve witnessed in the last few days in both Basra and Sadr City. And earlier today at his confirmation hearing to take over the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus said this:

I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents. This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July. Recent operations in Basra, Mosul, and now Sadr City have contributed significantly to the reduction in violence, and Prime Minister Maliki, his government, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people deserve considerable credit for the positive developments since Ambassador Crocker and I testified a month-and-a-half ago. In the months ahead, Coalition Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces in pursuing Al Qaeda-Iraq, their extremist partners, and militia elements that threaten security in Iraq. And though, as always, tough fights and hard work lie ahead, I believe that the path that we are on will best help achieve the objective of an Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a government that serves all Iraqis, and that is an increasingly prosperous and important member of the global economy and community of nations. [emphasis added]

What are we to make of all this? For one thing, there is no question that on almost every front–including the political and economic front–we’re seeing heartening progress in Iraq. It’s virtually impossible to argue that after far too many years of pursuing a flawed strategy, which came at an enormous cost to both the Iraqi people and the United States, we now have in place the right strategy being executed by the right people. Progress that was unimaginable in Iraq fifteen months ago has been made–and a nation that was bleeding and dying is now binding up its wounds.

General Petraeus’s warning that tough fights and hard work lie ahead cannot be repeated often enough. Military victories in Iraq, as difficult as they have been, are still easier to attain than rebuilding a traumatized and broken society. But we really have no other choice. Given the hopeful developments we have seen since the surge began, to leave now, before our job is complete, would be reckless and shameful and probably catastrophic.

In the latter half of 2006 it was legitimate for war critics to argue that Iraq was irredeemable lost and therefore we should cut our losses and leave. But that case can no longer be made. The debate has shifted from what the right strategy is to one of national will. Will our nation, weary of this long and costly war, continue along the path which has brought about indisputable, and in some cases breathtaking, progress? If we do, there will be honor in our efforts–and, it’s now reasonable to say, success as well.

In a story from the Associated Press we read this:

The Al Qaeda terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago, the acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who assumed interim command of U.S. Central Command on March 28, acknowledged that Al Qaeda remains a relentless foe and has not disappeared as a serious threat to stability. But he said an accelerated U.S. and Iraq campaign to pressure Al Qaeda has paid big dividends. “Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted Al Qaeda, probably to a level that we haven’t seen at any time in my experience,” said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

And this:

Earlier Wednesday, the Army general who oversees U.S. commando operations in the Middle East said that Al Qaeda in Iraq has yet to be vanquished but is increasingly running out of places where local Iraqis will accommodate the group’s extremist ideology. “Is he still a lethal and dangerous threat to us? Absolutely,” Maj. Gen. John Mulholland said in an interview with reporters at the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command, the organization with global responsibility for providing Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other commandos to combat terrorism. . . . Mulholland acknowledged that Al Qaeda, which U.S. intelligence says is led by foreign terrorists but is populated mainly by local Iraqis seeking to establish a radical Islamic state, still poses a major challenge in the Mosul area of northern Iraq and has occasionally slipped back into areas like Anbar province in western Iraq. “Do we think he can at least try to regain a foothold in Anbar province? Yes, we do think he’s trying to do that,” Mulholland said. While U.S. officials do not believe Al Qaeda is succeeding in re-establishing a significant presence in Anbar – which the group was forced to abandon a year ago as local Sunni Arabs turned violently against it – it does appear that small Al Qaeda cells can still slip into isolated areas and make trouble, he said. “I don’t want to paint a picture – or to convey to you in any way – that Al Qaeda in Iraq is being completely destroyed or rendered irrelevant, because that’s not the case,” he said. “They are still potentially a threat capable of death and destruction against the Iraqi people and our own forces there. But it is not something he can do easily any more.”

This news should be seen within the context of Max’s post earlier today in which he points out that the number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month. And that news, in turn, follows on progress we’ve witnessed in the last few days in both Basra and Sadr City. And earlier today at his confirmation hearing to take over the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus said this:

I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents. This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July. Recent operations in Basra, Mosul, and now Sadr City have contributed significantly to the reduction in violence, and Prime Minister Maliki, his government, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people deserve considerable credit for the positive developments since Ambassador Crocker and I testified a month-and-a-half ago. In the months ahead, Coalition Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces in pursuing Al Qaeda-Iraq, their extremist partners, and militia elements that threaten security in Iraq. And though, as always, tough fights and hard work lie ahead, I believe that the path that we are on will best help achieve the objective of an Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a government that serves all Iraqis, and that is an increasingly prosperous and important member of the global economy and community of nations. [emphasis added]

What are we to make of all this? For one thing, there is no question that on almost every front–including the political and economic front–we’re seeing heartening progress in Iraq. It’s virtually impossible to argue that after far too many years of pursuing a flawed strategy, which came at an enormous cost to both the Iraqi people and the United States, we now have in place the right strategy being executed by the right people. Progress that was unimaginable in Iraq fifteen months ago has been made–and a nation that was bleeding and dying is now binding up its wounds.

General Petraeus’s warning that tough fights and hard work lie ahead cannot be repeated often enough. Military victories in Iraq, as difficult as they have been, are still easier to attain than rebuilding a traumatized and broken society. But we really have no other choice. Given the hopeful developments we have seen since the surge began, to leave now, before our job is complete, would be reckless and shameful and probably catastrophic.

In the latter half of 2006 it was legitimate for war critics to argue that Iraq was irredeemable lost and therefore we should cut our losses and leave. But that case can no longer be made. The debate has shifted from what the right strategy is to one of national will. Will our nation, weary of this long and costly war, continue along the path which has brought about indisputable, and in some cases breathtaking, progress? If we do, there will be honor in our efforts–and, it’s now reasonable to say, success as well.

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News from Sadr City

On the front page of today’s New York Times we read this:

Iraqi forces rolled unopposed through the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Tuesday, a dramatic turnaround from the bitter fighting that has plagued the Baghdad neighborhood for two months, and a qualified success for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. As it did in the southern city of Basra last month, the Iraqi government advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militia.

The Times story, written by Michael Gordon and Alissa Rubin, rightly contains caveats. Nobody can say just where the militias, who melted away in the face of Iraqi troops backed by American power, might re-emerge, or when Iraqi and American forces might need to fight them again. The main military question is whether the ISF can solidify their hold over Sadr City. And the main political question is whether the Maliki government will cement its gains by winning over a wary population.

Yet the Sadr City military offensive is impressive, especially when executed on top of the success we’ve recently seen in Basra. (After a shaky start, for the first time the Iraqi government has pacified and restored government control there). The Sadr City offensive is doubly impressive when you consider that no American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops into there. While we shared intelligence, helped the Iraqi’s in planning the operation and provided overhead reconnaissance, it was “totally Iraqi planned, led and executed,” the U.S. military told the Washington Post.

Sadr City’s “Operation Peace” was better coordinated than the operation in Basra–and it needed to be, since Sadr City is a densely populated neighborhood of more than two million and has been a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr. It helps, of course, that the Shiite militia has been badly damaged since late March. According to Col. John Hort, commander of the Third Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, we have killed the equivalent of a U.S. battalion. At the same time, he says we have seen a lot of indications that some of the senior leadership of the Jaysh al Mahdi and the “special groups” supported by Iran have left Sadr City.

Everything in Iraq is hard, Ambassador Crocker has rightly said, and Sadr City is a particularly difficult nut to crack. There will be hard days as well as good days–and Iraq remains in many ways a broken nation. But it is also a nation in the process of mending itself and, day-by-day, it is taking up the tasks of self-government. That Iraq is a far less violent country than it was is indisputable; just this week we’ve seen the lowest level of security incidents since April 2004. And as the Times says in an accompanying story today, what we are seeing is the first determined effort by Prime Minister Maliki to assert control over the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.

Violence will almost surely erupt in Sadr City at some point; the malevolent forces in Iraq aren’t defeated or going away. But for the time being at least, the Iraqi government seems to have the upper hand. This isn’t everything that needs to be done in Iraq–but it’s a necessary part of what needs to be done. And perhaps the skeptics and critics of this war can find the time to recognize this success and laud the efforts of Prime Minister Maliki, his government, and his people, who are–with the extraordinary help of the American military–trying to rebuild a shattered society. There is poignancy and courage in this effort–and now, finally, hope as well.

On the front page of today’s New York Times we read this:

Iraqi forces rolled unopposed through the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Tuesday, a dramatic turnaround from the bitter fighting that has plagued the Baghdad neighborhood for two months, and a qualified success for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. As it did in the southern city of Basra last month, the Iraqi government advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militia.

The Times story, written by Michael Gordon and Alissa Rubin, rightly contains caveats. Nobody can say just where the militias, who melted away in the face of Iraqi troops backed by American power, might re-emerge, or when Iraqi and American forces might need to fight them again. The main military question is whether the ISF can solidify their hold over Sadr City. And the main political question is whether the Maliki government will cement its gains by winning over a wary population.

Yet the Sadr City military offensive is impressive, especially when executed on top of the success we’ve recently seen in Basra. (After a shaky start, for the first time the Iraqi government has pacified and restored government control there). The Sadr City offensive is doubly impressive when you consider that no American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops into there. While we shared intelligence, helped the Iraqi’s in planning the operation and provided overhead reconnaissance, it was “totally Iraqi planned, led and executed,” the U.S. military told the Washington Post.

Sadr City’s “Operation Peace” was better coordinated than the operation in Basra–and it needed to be, since Sadr City is a densely populated neighborhood of more than two million and has been a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr. It helps, of course, that the Shiite militia has been badly damaged since late March. According to Col. John Hort, commander of the Third Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, we have killed the equivalent of a U.S. battalion. At the same time, he says we have seen a lot of indications that some of the senior leadership of the Jaysh al Mahdi and the “special groups” supported by Iran have left Sadr City.

Everything in Iraq is hard, Ambassador Crocker has rightly said, and Sadr City is a particularly difficult nut to crack. There will be hard days as well as good days–and Iraq remains in many ways a broken nation. But it is also a nation in the process of mending itself and, day-by-day, it is taking up the tasks of self-government. That Iraq is a far less violent country than it was is indisputable; just this week we’ve seen the lowest level of security incidents since April 2004. And as the Times says in an accompanying story today, what we are seeing is the first determined effort by Prime Minister Maliki to assert control over the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.

Violence will almost surely erupt in Sadr City at some point; the malevolent forces in Iraq aren’t defeated or going away. But for the time being at least, the Iraqi government seems to have the upper hand. This isn’t everything that needs to be done in Iraq–but it’s a necessary part of what needs to be done. And perhaps the skeptics and critics of this war can find the time to recognize this success and laud the efforts of Prime Minister Maliki, his government, and his people, who are–with the extraordinary help of the American military–trying to rebuild a shattered society. There is poignancy and courage in this effort–and now, finally, hope as well.

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What Would He Talk To Them About?

John McCain just completed a blogger conference call. He began by referring to his speech this morning and by emphasizing that he sees that by 2013 we will have won in Iraq, meaning the government and military would be functioning and violence would be “sporadic.”

I asked McCain about President Bush’s comments in Israel and why the Democratic establishment and media had gone crazy over Bush’s warnings about the dangers of appeasement. McCain said that he took Bush at his word when he said that he wasn’t talking about Barack Obama specifically. He then explained that he suspected that the reaction was so “vociferous” because of concern about defending a policy that evidences the “highest degree of naivitee and inexperience” in pledging to sit down with the President of Iraq who calls Israel a “stinking corpse,” vows to wipe Israel off the map and supplies explosives which kill America’s military personnel in Iraq.

I also asked him about Lebanon and whether Obama’s plan to meet directly with Iran will improve the situation. He said that there is essentially a “proxy war” with Syria and Iran supporting Hezbollah and that the U.N. has done nothing to enforce its resolution calling for Hezbollah’s disarmament. Again, he took issue with the notion that we should hold presidential talks with Iran: ” What is it that he wants to talk about?” He queried whether it would be Iran’s belief that Israel is a stinking corpse or its commitment to destroy Israel. He summed up, saying he concluded from this that Obama lacked the “knowledge, experience or background” to defend our national security interests.

In response to the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb’s question as to what preconditions would be needed before he would talk to Iran’s leadership, McCain listed renunciation of its stated position to wipe out Israel, abandonment of its pursuit of nuclear weapons, a cessation of exporting of explosive devices which are killing Americans and a halt to sponsorship of terrorist organizations. He also noted that talks including Ambassador Crocker’s discussion with the Iranian Ambassador in Iraq have given us no reason to believe that Iran is interested in any of these items.

And what about the Obama campaign’s spin that Obama isn’t really promising unconditional talks? McCain was having none of it. He pointed to other flip flops by Obama on NAFTA and concluded that on this one (Iran) more recent comments suggesting that Obama really isn’t after all interested in direct talks without preconditons show a “very clear inconsistency” and a “contradiction” with his prior position.

In short, McCain made clear he believes meeting at the presidential level with Iran would merely “enhance their prestige” and that this policy position by Obama is a useful one in McCain’s own efforts to paint Obama as a dangerous novice in foreign affairs. It seems clear this will be a major point of debate in the general election.

John McCain just completed a blogger conference call. He began by referring to his speech this morning and by emphasizing that he sees that by 2013 we will have won in Iraq, meaning the government and military would be functioning and violence would be “sporadic.”

I asked McCain about President Bush’s comments in Israel and why the Democratic establishment and media had gone crazy over Bush’s warnings about the dangers of appeasement. McCain said that he took Bush at his word when he said that he wasn’t talking about Barack Obama specifically. He then explained that he suspected that the reaction was so “vociferous” because of concern about defending a policy that evidences the “highest degree of naivitee and inexperience” in pledging to sit down with the President of Iraq who calls Israel a “stinking corpse,” vows to wipe Israel off the map and supplies explosives which kill America’s military personnel in Iraq.

I also asked him about Lebanon and whether Obama’s plan to meet directly with Iran will improve the situation. He said that there is essentially a “proxy war” with Syria and Iran supporting Hezbollah and that the U.N. has done nothing to enforce its resolution calling for Hezbollah’s disarmament. Again, he took issue with the notion that we should hold presidential talks with Iran: ” What is it that he wants to talk about?” He queried whether it would be Iran’s belief that Israel is a stinking corpse or its commitment to destroy Israel. He summed up, saying he concluded from this that Obama lacked the “knowledge, experience or background” to defend our national security interests.

In response to the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb’s question as to what preconditions would be needed before he would talk to Iran’s leadership, McCain listed renunciation of its stated position to wipe out Israel, abandonment of its pursuit of nuclear weapons, a cessation of exporting of explosive devices which are killing Americans and a halt to sponsorship of terrorist organizations. He also noted that talks including Ambassador Crocker’s discussion with the Iranian Ambassador in Iraq have given us no reason to believe that Iran is interested in any of these items.

And what about the Obama campaign’s spin that Obama isn’t really promising unconditional talks? McCain was having none of it. He pointed to other flip flops by Obama on NAFTA and concluded that on this one (Iran) more recent comments suggesting that Obama really isn’t after all interested in direct talks without preconditons show a “very clear inconsistency” and a “contradiction” with his prior position.

In short, McCain made clear he believes meeting at the presidential level with Iran would merely “enhance their prestige” and that this policy position by Obama is a useful one in McCain’s own efforts to paint Obama as a dangerous novice in foreign affairs. It seems clear this will be a major point of debate in the general election.

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Re: James Glanz

I wanted to echo John’s point: Critics of the Iraq war took the episode in Basra and wanted to use it to change the narrative from one of progress to one of failure. But what happened in Basra, while not without its problems, may turn out to be a positive achievement.

There’s no doubt that when Maliki went into Basra, he was unprepared for the difficulty of the task and overestimated what the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) could achieve. But after the chaos of the first several days, the situation has stabilized. U.S. forces have assisted the Iraqis, greater coordination has taken place, and things appear to be on a much better course.

Among the good things that have happened is that the Iraqis showed they were able to move some 10,000 troops across Iraq in a quick and orderly fashion. It’s true that some of the Iraqis who were locally recruited did poorly, but the ISF overall performed pretty well. Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites not loyal to Muqtada al Sadr rallied around Maliki. The Prime Minister is actually stronger politically than he was before the Basra operation.

In addition, the Turks are impressed that Maliki, a Shiite, was willing to go after Shia militia. The Arab Gulf States, who never imagined Maliki would do such a thing, have also gained respect for him. In addition, the Basra operation drove home to Maliki, in a vivid and even in a personal way, the extent to which Iran is supporting the Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) and the “special groups” (meaning extreme Shia militia) in Iraq.

One of the important tactical efforts now taking place in Iraq is that we are attempting to drive a wedge within the Shia militia–which may be our top concern in the aftermath of the punishing blows we have dealt to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

During the Congressional testimonies of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker a few weeks ago, Democrat after Democrat cited Basra as an example of all that has gone wrong in Iraq. Petraeus and Crocker patiently explained to them what was unfolding in Basra was a good deal more nuanced and textured than members of Congress understood. It made little difference. Senators and Representatives were there to posture, not to learn.

Basra may turn out to be an important, and even vital, moment in the evolution of Nuri al-Maliki as a leader. Critics of the war, ever eager to latch on to any bad news in Iraq, are now at the point where they need to manufacture setbacks in order to promote their narrative. But eventually the truth emerges–and sometimes the reputations of journalists and other critics suffer in the process.

I wanted to echo John’s point: Critics of the Iraq war took the episode in Basra and wanted to use it to change the narrative from one of progress to one of failure. But what happened in Basra, while not without its problems, may turn out to be a positive achievement.

There’s no doubt that when Maliki went into Basra, he was unprepared for the difficulty of the task and overestimated what the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) could achieve. But after the chaos of the first several days, the situation has stabilized. U.S. forces have assisted the Iraqis, greater coordination has taken place, and things appear to be on a much better course.

Among the good things that have happened is that the Iraqis showed they were able to move some 10,000 troops across Iraq in a quick and orderly fashion. It’s true that some of the Iraqis who were locally recruited did poorly, but the ISF overall performed pretty well. Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites not loyal to Muqtada al Sadr rallied around Maliki. The Prime Minister is actually stronger politically than he was before the Basra operation.

In addition, the Turks are impressed that Maliki, a Shiite, was willing to go after Shia militia. The Arab Gulf States, who never imagined Maliki would do such a thing, have also gained respect for him. In addition, the Basra operation drove home to Maliki, in a vivid and even in a personal way, the extent to which Iran is supporting the Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) and the “special groups” (meaning extreme Shia militia) in Iraq.

One of the important tactical efforts now taking place in Iraq is that we are attempting to drive a wedge within the Shia militia–which may be our top concern in the aftermath of the punishing blows we have dealt to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

During the Congressional testimonies of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker a few weeks ago, Democrat after Democrat cited Basra as an example of all that has gone wrong in Iraq. Petraeus and Crocker patiently explained to them what was unfolding in Basra was a good deal more nuanced and textured than members of Congress understood. It made little difference. Senators and Representatives were there to posture, not to learn.

Basra may turn out to be an important, and even vital, moment in the evolution of Nuri al-Maliki as a leader. Critics of the war, ever eager to latch on to any bad news in Iraq, are now at the point where they need to manufacture setbacks in order to promote their narrative. But eventually the truth emerges–and sometimes the reputations of journalists and other critics suffer in the process.

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Disconnect

Barack Obama’s questioning of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus reveals a series of disconnects in his (and many of the Democrats’) thinking and stated position on Iraq. He acknowledges that, with regard to al Qaeda, the goal is to “create a manageable situation where they’re not posing a threat to Iraq or using it as a base to launch attacks outside of Iraq.” (General Petraeus finds this summary “exactly right.”) However, Obama asks not a single question about, seems uninterested in, and seeks to end the surge strategy which has furthered that exact goal.

He disclaims any intention to push for a “precipitous withdrawal” of forces, but declares again and again on the campaign trail without qualification that he will start pulling out brigades each month as soon as he is in office. He insists, “We all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq. All of us do.” However, he suggests the venture was doomed from the start and ends his time by complaining that “the amount of money that we are spending is hemorrhaging our budget.” Afghanistan is where we should really be, he tells us, without explaining how leaving al Qaeda forces operating in Iraq will further our efforts elsewhere.

In sum, there is an utter disconnect between his stated intention (“we all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq”) and the means (withdrawal) he advocates for achieving it. If he were honest, he would either say all is lost and there is no successful resolution, OR he would acknowledge that there is no reasonable way to continue to reduce al Qaeda’s influence other than to keep doing what we have been doing –killing many of them, destroying their safe havens, developing the Iraqi military’s capabilities, and providing security to the population.

At bottom, he seems to be hoping the public agrees with his characterization of the decision to go to Iraq (“a massive strategic blunder”) and to be betting that things miraculously will work out for the best. (For example, engaging Iran in diplomatic discussions will somehow go better after we have started pulling out troops). Or perhaps he figures that, in the end, no one will blame him if he reverses course and relies on the advice of the experts who have shown results with the strategy he disparaged. It is all quite unclear and rather illogical. But it may well be politically attractive.

Barack Obama’s questioning of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus reveals a series of disconnects in his (and many of the Democrats’) thinking and stated position on Iraq. He acknowledges that, with regard to al Qaeda, the goal is to “create a manageable situation where they’re not posing a threat to Iraq or using it as a base to launch attacks outside of Iraq.” (General Petraeus finds this summary “exactly right.”) However, Obama asks not a single question about, seems uninterested in, and seeks to end the surge strategy which has furthered that exact goal.

He disclaims any intention to push for a “precipitous withdrawal” of forces, but declares again and again on the campaign trail without qualification that he will start pulling out brigades each month as soon as he is in office. He insists, “We all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq. All of us do.” However, he suggests the venture was doomed from the start and ends his time by complaining that “the amount of money that we are spending is hemorrhaging our budget.” Afghanistan is where we should really be, he tells us, without explaining how leaving al Qaeda forces operating in Iraq will further our efforts elsewhere.

In sum, there is an utter disconnect between his stated intention (“we all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq”) and the means (withdrawal) he advocates for achieving it. If he were honest, he would either say all is lost and there is no successful resolution, OR he would acknowledge that there is no reasonable way to continue to reduce al Qaeda’s influence other than to keep doing what we have been doing –killing many of them, destroying their safe havens, developing the Iraqi military’s capabilities, and providing security to the population.

At bottom, he seems to be hoping the public agrees with his characterization of the decision to go to Iraq (“a massive strategic blunder”) and to be betting that things miraculously will work out for the best. (For example, engaging Iran in diplomatic discussions will somehow go better after we have started pulling out troops). Or perhaps he figures that, in the end, no one will blame him if he reverses course and relies on the advice of the experts who have shown results with the strategy he disparaged. It is all quite unclear and rather illogical. But it may well be politically attractive.

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More on the Hearings

There are many things to say about today’s Senate testimonies of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. But what has struck me, so far, are the following.

The first is that in Petraeus and Crocker you see two men who embody excellence, a wonderful thing to see in any field of human endeavor. It’s especially comforting to find it in a place as important and fragile as Iraq. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are informed, careful, candid, and wholly in command. They have a complicated story to tell–and they tell it very, very well.

The second thing I noticed was how respectful and strong Petraeus and Crocker are. Senator Bayh (D-Indiana), for example, asked a question whose purpose was to get General Petraeus to say that those who disagree with Petraeus’ strategy are just as patriotic as those who agree with his strategy. General Petraeus made the right and obvious rejoinder: one of the reasons we fight for freedom is to allow people to hold different opinions. But he also made a powerful case that (these are my words, not his) not all opinions are equally valid or informed – and that the wrong opinions, animating wrong decisions, can have terrible consequences.

The third thing that jumped out at me is the vast ignorance of many Senators. For example, Senator McCaskill (D-Missouri) appears wed to a particular (defeatist) narrative regarding Basra: it was, she insisted, a terrible loss for Prime Minister Maliki, a big win for Muqtada al-Sadr, and evidence that the Iraq project is falling apart.

Ambassador Crocker patiently explained why this interpretation is wrong. He pointed out that there is actually fairly widespread support throughout Iraq for Maliki’s efforts, that there is a strong popular reaction against Shia militias, and that Sadr appears to be putting some distance between himself and elements of the Jaish al Mahdi (JAM) militia. These are all important data points.

General Petraeus made many of the same observations in response to previous questions. He pointed out that planning of the Basra operation left a lot to be desired–but that the Iraqi government’s willingness to take the battle to the enemy was encouraging. He acknowledged the troubling defections we saw within the ranks of the Iraqis–and told about the very impressive and heartening conduct of most of the ISF. Things are still playing out in Basra–but some of the early stumbles seem to have been corrected, adjustments are being made, and things are better now than they were. This is, in some ways, the story of Iraq writ large.

What we’re getting, and not only from Senators critical of the war, is posturing. Many Senators appear far more interested in making speeches than they do in asking pertinent questions. Iraq is a fluid situation–yet so many political figures have made up their mind. They act as if things are frozen in amber, as if a snapshot in time is a permanent state of things. And they seem wholly uninterested in increasing their understanding of the facts on the ground–especially if the facts on the ground demonstrate progress. Petraeus and Crocker, at least, are nuanced and knowledgeable. Which is, unfortunately, something rarely found on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

There are many things to say about today’s Senate testimonies of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. But what has struck me, so far, are the following.

The first is that in Petraeus and Crocker you see two men who embody excellence, a wonderful thing to see in any field of human endeavor. It’s especially comforting to find it in a place as important and fragile as Iraq. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are informed, careful, candid, and wholly in command. They have a complicated story to tell–and they tell it very, very well.

The second thing I noticed was how respectful and strong Petraeus and Crocker are. Senator Bayh (D-Indiana), for example, asked a question whose purpose was to get General Petraeus to say that those who disagree with Petraeus’ strategy are just as patriotic as those who agree with his strategy. General Petraeus made the right and obvious rejoinder: one of the reasons we fight for freedom is to allow people to hold different opinions. But he also made a powerful case that (these are my words, not his) not all opinions are equally valid or informed – and that the wrong opinions, animating wrong decisions, can have terrible consequences.

The third thing that jumped out at me is the vast ignorance of many Senators. For example, Senator McCaskill (D-Missouri) appears wed to a particular (defeatist) narrative regarding Basra: it was, she insisted, a terrible loss for Prime Minister Maliki, a big win for Muqtada al-Sadr, and evidence that the Iraq project is falling apart.

Ambassador Crocker patiently explained why this interpretation is wrong. He pointed out that there is actually fairly widespread support throughout Iraq for Maliki’s efforts, that there is a strong popular reaction against Shia militias, and that Sadr appears to be putting some distance between himself and elements of the Jaish al Mahdi (JAM) militia. These are all important data points.

General Petraeus made many of the same observations in response to previous questions. He pointed out that planning of the Basra operation left a lot to be desired–but that the Iraqi government’s willingness to take the battle to the enemy was encouraging. He acknowledged the troubling defections we saw within the ranks of the Iraqis–and told about the very impressive and heartening conduct of most of the ISF. Things are still playing out in Basra–but some of the early stumbles seem to have been corrected, adjustments are being made, and things are better now than they were. This is, in some ways, the story of Iraq writ large.

What we’re getting, and not only from Senators critical of the war, is posturing. Many Senators appear far more interested in making speeches than they do in asking pertinent questions. Iraq is a fluid situation–yet so many political figures have made up their mind. They act as if things are frozen in amber, as if a snapshot in time is a permanent state of things. And they seem wholly uninterested in increasing their understanding of the facts on the ground–especially if the facts on the ground demonstrate progress. Petraeus and Crocker, at least, are nuanced and knowledgeable. Which is, unfortunately, something rarely found on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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The Iraq Hearings So Far

The blow-by-blow of today’s Iraq hearings can keep you busy if you are so inclined. But there is a Kabuki-like quality to all of this. Hillary Clinton looks bored as John McCain gives his opening remarks. Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus go through facts which Democrats barely bother to rebut, ignoring the details and concluding that all this means failure. McCain tries to get as much as he can on the record, while Clinton tries to keep mum.

It all seems a series of set pieces, not much intended to enlighten or persuade as to provide fodder for the political combat which will follow. The reality is that Democratic Congress–which could not manage to cut off or condition funds for U.S. troops in 2007–will not pull the plug now. The real battlefield is the presidential election. Today was merely the setup for the YouTube war to follow.

The blow-by-blow of today’s Iraq hearings can keep you busy if you are so inclined. But there is a Kabuki-like quality to all of this. Hillary Clinton looks bored as John McCain gives his opening remarks. Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus go through facts which Democrats barely bother to rebut, ignoring the details and concluding that all this means failure. McCain tries to get as much as he can on the record, while Clinton tries to keep mum.

It all seems a series of set pieces, not much intended to enlighten or persuade as to provide fodder for the political combat which will follow. The reality is that Democratic Congress–which could not manage to cut off or condition funds for U.S. troops in 2007–will not pull the plug now. The real battlefield is the presidential election. Today was merely the setup for the YouTube war to follow.

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More Fascinating Details from Lieberman

In the stunning speech he delivered today, which I wrote about just below, Sen. Joseph Lieberman sheds some horrifying light on one of the issues that made last week’s Democratic presidential debate so contentious — the amendment he co-sponsored in the Senate declaring the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization for the purpose of imposing economic sanctions on the group. For her vote in the affirmative, Hillary Clinton came under withering assault from her rivals for supposedly giving President Bush a green light to attack Iran militarily.

Lieberman:

The reason for [the] amendment was clear. In September, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testified before Congress about the proxy war that Iran—and in particular, the IRGC and its Quds Force subsidiary—has been waging against our troops in Iraq. Specifically, General Petraeus told us that the IRGC Quds Force has been training, funding, equipping, arming, and in some cases directing Shiite extremists who are responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers.

This charge had been corroborated by other sources….It was also consistent with nearly three decades of experience with the IRGC, which has been implicated in a range of terrorist attacks against the United States and our allies—long before the invasion of Iraq.

In light of this evidence, Senator [Jon] Kyl and I thought that calling for the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization was a no brainer. Rather than punishing Iranians indiscriminately, it would apply a set of targeted economic sanctions against the part of the Iranian regime that was responsible for the murder of our troops in Iraq….

[Indeed,] a bipartisan group of 68 senators, including several of the Democratic presidential candidates, had already signed onto a piece of legislation introduced earlier in the year that asked for the IRGC’s designation along exactly the same lines as our amendment….

I was wrong….

First, several left-wing blogs seized upon the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, offering wild conspiracy theories about how it could be used to authorize the use of military force against Iran.

These were absurd arguments. The text of our amendment contained nothing—nothing—that could be construed as a green light for an attack on Iran. To claim that it did was an act of delusion or deception. On the contrary, by calling for tougher sanctions on Iran, the intention of our amendment was to offer an alternative to war.

Nonetheless, the conspiracy theories started to spread. Although the Senate passed our amendment, 76-22, several Democrats, including some of the Democratic presidential candidates, soon began attacking it….

I asked some of my Senate colleagues who voted against our amendment: “Do you believe the evidence the military has given us about the IRGC sponsoring these attacks on our troops?” Yes, they invariably said.

“Don’t you support tougher economic sanctions against Iran?” I asked. Again, yes—no question.

So what’s the problem, I asked.

“It’s simple,” they said. “We don’t trust Bush. He’ll use this resolution as an excuse for war against Iran.”

I understand that President Bush is a divisive figure….But there is something profoundly wrong—something that should trouble all of us—when we have elected Democratic officials who seem more worried about how the Bush administration might respond to Iran’s murder of our troops, than about the fact that Iran is murdering our troops. 

There is likewise something profoundly wrong when we see candidates who are willing to pander to this politically paranoid, hyper-partisan sentiment in the Democratic base—even if it sends a message of weakness and division to the Iranian regime.

Remarkable. The full text of the speech, again, is here.

In the stunning speech he delivered today, which I wrote about just below, Sen. Joseph Lieberman sheds some horrifying light on one of the issues that made last week’s Democratic presidential debate so contentious — the amendment he co-sponsored in the Senate declaring the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization for the purpose of imposing economic sanctions on the group. For her vote in the affirmative, Hillary Clinton came under withering assault from her rivals for supposedly giving President Bush a green light to attack Iran militarily.

Lieberman:

The reason for [the] amendment was clear. In September, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testified before Congress about the proxy war that Iran—and in particular, the IRGC and its Quds Force subsidiary—has been waging against our troops in Iraq. Specifically, General Petraeus told us that the IRGC Quds Force has been training, funding, equipping, arming, and in some cases directing Shiite extremists who are responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers.

This charge had been corroborated by other sources….It was also consistent with nearly three decades of experience with the IRGC, which has been implicated in a range of terrorist attacks against the United States and our allies—long before the invasion of Iraq.

In light of this evidence, Senator [Jon] Kyl and I thought that calling for the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization was a no brainer. Rather than punishing Iranians indiscriminately, it would apply a set of targeted economic sanctions against the part of the Iranian regime that was responsible for the murder of our troops in Iraq….

[Indeed,] a bipartisan group of 68 senators, including several of the Democratic presidential candidates, had already signed onto a piece of legislation introduced earlier in the year that asked for the IRGC’s designation along exactly the same lines as our amendment….

I was wrong….

First, several left-wing blogs seized upon the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, offering wild conspiracy theories about how it could be used to authorize the use of military force against Iran.

These were absurd arguments. The text of our amendment contained nothing—nothing—that could be construed as a green light for an attack on Iran. To claim that it did was an act of delusion or deception. On the contrary, by calling for tougher sanctions on Iran, the intention of our amendment was to offer an alternative to war.

Nonetheless, the conspiracy theories started to spread. Although the Senate passed our amendment, 76-22, several Democrats, including some of the Democratic presidential candidates, soon began attacking it….

I asked some of my Senate colleagues who voted against our amendment: “Do you believe the evidence the military has given us about the IRGC sponsoring these attacks on our troops?” Yes, they invariably said.

“Don’t you support tougher economic sanctions against Iran?” I asked. Again, yes—no question.

So what’s the problem, I asked.

“It’s simple,” they said. “We don’t trust Bush. He’ll use this resolution as an excuse for war against Iran.”

I understand that President Bush is a divisive figure….But there is something profoundly wrong—something that should trouble all of us—when we have elected Democratic officials who seem more worried about how the Bush administration might respond to Iran’s murder of our troops, than about the fact that Iran is murdering our troops. 

There is likewise something profoundly wrong when we see candidates who are willing to pander to this politically paranoid, hyper-partisan sentiment in the Democratic base—even if it sends a message of weakness and division to the Iranian regime.

Remarkable. The full text of the speech, again, is here.

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Petraeus the Communicator

There were no real surprises on Capitol Hill when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker showed up yesterday to present their reports. This was due, in large part, to the success that Petraeus had in laying the groundwork for their much-anticipated visit. He is an unusually open military commander who is not suspicious of journalists or legislators or scholars intruding in his “battlespace.” In fact he does everything possible to facilitate such visits. (I am one of many who is grateful to him for his hospitality.)

That marks a sharp a contrast with the previous senior U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, who tended to view public relations as a second-order concern. Petraeus realizes that no modern commander can have the luxury of ignoring public opinion, either at home or around the world, so he has been careful to “shape” the public opinion climate prior to his Washington appearance.

This does not mean, I hasten to add, that he is engaging in lying or spinning, as charged by some irresponsible critics. He is not peddling propaganda. He realizes that any lie would be exposed quickly and that the best interests of the mission dictate that he get the whole truth out to the public. Thus, he has been as open and accommodating to skeptics of the “surge”—e.g., Anthony Cordesmen and Ken Pollack—as he has been to supporters of the surge, such as Fred Kagan and me. And he has taken steps to improve the access of the news media to the battlefield, knowing that reporters will deliver a more nuanced and accurate picture from the frontlines.
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There were no real surprises on Capitol Hill when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker showed up yesterday to present their reports. This was due, in large part, to the success that Petraeus had in laying the groundwork for their much-anticipated visit. He is an unusually open military commander who is not suspicious of journalists or legislators or scholars intruding in his “battlespace.” In fact he does everything possible to facilitate such visits. (I am one of many who is grateful to him for his hospitality.)

That marks a sharp a contrast with the previous senior U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, who tended to view public relations as a second-order concern. Petraeus realizes that no modern commander can have the luxury of ignoring public opinion, either at home or around the world, so he has been careful to “shape” the public opinion climate prior to his Washington appearance.

This does not mean, I hasten to add, that he is engaging in lying or spinning, as charged by some irresponsible critics. He is not peddling propaganda. He realizes that any lie would be exposed quickly and that the best interests of the mission dictate that he get the whole truth out to the public. Thus, he has been as open and accommodating to skeptics of the “surge”—e.g., Anthony Cordesmen and Ken Pollack—as he has been to supporters of the surge, such as Fred Kagan and me. And he has taken steps to improve the access of the news media to the battlefield, knowing that reporters will deliver a more nuanced and accurate picture from the frontlines.

So, when the surge started making progress this summer, the American public didn’t have to rely on what the White House said to figure out what was going on. There were a larger number of independent observers who have traveled the battlefield extensively to provide an unbiased picture of what’s gone right, as well as what’s still going wrong.

Whatever the final outcome, officers in the future would be well advised to study Petraeus’s approach as a textbook example of 21st century “information operations.”

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