General Petraeus’ Report hearing has begun. So far, if this was a TV script, the writer would be severely criticized for being too predictable. Then again, as I noted in an entry this past Friday, the drama in this is likely all going to be scripted – Petraeus probably won’t be revealing anything worthy of a “gasp” moment, and already outlined the situation with characteristic candor and insight in his letter to the troops.
On cue, a few Code Pink protesters said something unintelligible and strident, and were promptly removed. So far, so metaphoric. No doubt it’s going to be a day for allegory and irony. My kind of day.
Then the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton, had some words. Most talked about how the Administration’s predictions haven’t been credible, how the Maliki government is unreliable, and how Petraeus’ foresight and strategy has been superb – if only it had been taken seriously years ago. The usual accolades were showered on him and the troops by Skelton and by Lantos.
One wouldn’t know it from Duncan Hunter and Ros-Lehtinen’s comments – two Republicans. They talked of how criticisms of the General’s credibility by the Left are just shameful, and asked for every Democrat to apologize for the ad MoveOn.org put out that called Petraeus “General Betray Us”. They then equated 9/11 to Pearl Harbor and called this effort “the new Greatest Generation”. Right there, their credibility takes a nose dive. Yes, there’s a “War on Terror” on, but it has about as much similarity to World War II as the War on Drugs has to Medicare.
So now that the Democrats established themselves as biased and the Republicans as diversionary and deranged, we move on. More protesters – some black-shirted veterans against the war. They said, “Tell the truth, General” and got hauled away.
This early period ended with a note of yet more allegorical irony as it was discovered that Petraeus’ microphone, and Crocker’s, is not working.
After a break, Petraeus will begin talking. We’ll update following that.
Petraeus begins by talking about how local support and increased troop activity – “kinetic” he calls it, and that’s a very appropriate term – is making substantial security gains. He whips out a chart.
Monthly attacks in the show pony, Anbar, have gone from 1,300 to 200 or so. He also mentions that, since December, ethno-sectarian killings have dropped by 80% in Baghdad. IEDs are down. Suicide bombings and car bombings have gone from 175 in March to 90.
Thing is, he’s talking about al-Qaeda and the Sunni kinds of violence. Suicide bombings are the fare of the foaming shaheed al-Qaeda sends in, not the Iranian thugs or Shi’a militias. IEDs are down, it’s true, but roadside bombings using Iranian built explosively formed penetrators are up.
He then talks to how the Iraqi security forces are growing, with 140 in the fight and some 90 being self-sufficient. He says this is in spite of a dearth of COs and NCOs and sectarian influence. However, that’s a false indicator. As proud as Petraeus can be about getting a viable Army intact, more forces “in spite of” sectarian influence just means more traitors who’re more effective within the ranks of the police.
Along that same disturbing point, Petraeus talks about how Iraq is one of the biggest customers of American arms, spending $1.6 billion annually on them. Let’s hope that they’re only selling tasers and gym whistles to anybody in the Interior Ministry.
Then we had a flash of Petraeus genius – a special section of his report emphasizing the critical nature for a comprehensive cyber-space offensive against al-Qaeda. And this is where he’s aiming for the aorta of al-Qaeda – terrorists are a recyclable resource, born of outrage, and victory comes down to crushing their information assets more than their physical forces. This is a War on Anger more than it is a War on Terror, and Petraeus knows that in such a fight the message is a better weapon than a missile.
This is where he stands to overcome expectations that his report will have no effect on the postures of our legislature’s political parties. He speaks to the interests of both sides, both parties, and explains why they have merit.
Petraeus understands the situation, and he conveys this by recognizing that neither party’s opinions are made of whole cloth – both have facts behind them. The facts encourage a reduction. They also demand determination and endurance for the short term. These are keys to defeating al-Qaeda. But more than anything, the facts require a new direction.
Petraeus has talked about the new need to employ technological capabilities like UAVs, IED-proof APCs and cyberspace, and that’s how he’s encouraging new direction. However, that’s a change in operational direction, not strategic, and the problems are largely strategic – “political” as the favored parlance goes. Cyberspace touches on it, especially so far as the larger War on Terror is concerned, but it doesn’t touch Iraq’s principal dilemma for America’s interests: Iran and the sectarian, venal Shi’a domination of Iraq’s government – the very government we’re supposedly there to defend.
Code Pink goes code red right after the General’s done, and have to be dragged out, literally kicking and screaming. Nothing like pitching a tantrum to bring credibility to your message. Call me old fashioned, but I’ve never quite cottoned to this polite new breed of protest – “complaint by installment”. Storm a hearing en masse and chain yourself to Republicans, and you’ll raise some real newsprint. Speak up only when Robert’s Rules of Order has ordained a pause in proceedings and you end up a fussy footnote.
Huey Newton rolls in his grave.
Behold the fate of sourpuss soccer mom protesters. Note the distinct lack of tear gas.
Crocker comes on board and talks about how things are, despite most a lack of legislation, financial aid implementation or infrastructure repair in underserved areas, things are actually looking up.
He speaks proudly about the democracy in Iraq. I can’t nod along. The democratic system led to the election of the Dawah Party, the political paralysis of minority communities and an ad hoc dictatorship. The purple fingers are losing their luster. 2009 can’t come fast enough for everybody but the thugs in power, I assure you.
Yes, Crocker goes on at length at talking about how seriously the Iraqi legislators are taking the nurturing of their fledgling democracy, with “a deep sense of commitment and patriotism”. As an example, he speaks, after some portentous preamble, about how the ruling coalition – minus the Sunnis – took a big step in resolving to talk about drafting reconciliation legislation. Call me cynical, but if the Republicans announced that they would exclude the Democrats and were now determined to meet at some point to talk about what they might draft that might be passed and might be funded to implement universal health care, most people would not take it very seriously.
Then he says something that actually sends one of my eyebrows up. Muqtada al-Sadr is shuffling away from extremism…
Al-Sadr most certainly did issue an order freezing attacks on Coalition troops and fellow Shia after the pilgrims to Karbala were assaulted. I had assumed this was due to the reduction of British troops from the Shia bastion of Basra that had sparked a spasm of inter-Shia turf warring. In any event, it is true that al-Sadr has called for the Shia extremists to not be so darn extreme for a little while.
Apparently Iran missed the memo, as we’re continuing to lose troops to roadside bombs. As I thought at the time he issued the order, al-Sadr may stand to lose, not consolidate power, by issuing the order to stay violence and see to reorganization. He’s more an opportunist, taking advantage of the extremism and outrage, than he is the captain of it. This was borne out by his steep drop in power when he tried to join the government two years ago. I would expect that Sadr gets marginalized by his “consolidation”, as Iran seeks more reliable and “kinetic” clients to perpetrate their military agenda.
Crocker goes on about how governments abroad are gradually moving closer to Iraq. They, at least, are taking advantage of the settling of violence in the capital brought about by the Security Plan aspect of the Surge. But when he talks about how the Iraqis have been “given time to reflect what kind of government they want”, I’m not thinking “reflect” is what has been going on. Nevertheless, he is right that the stakes are Iranian conquest of the country if we pull out precipitously.
Only thing is, we need to be sure we’re fighting that conquest, not facilitating it. Right now, we’re just not racking up any of the right numbers that would indicate that, and seeing plenty of the wrong.
And speaking of wrong numbers, Crocker talks about organizing an international fund that would assist the Iraqis in considering how to budget for infrastructure rebuilding. That’s fine, but again, off topic. The point nowadays is not that they’re not getting enough money. It’s that the money’s not being spent, or is vanishing. Not accounting, but accountability, is the issue.
And speaking of accountability, it is time for the Q&A…
Skelton starts off by saying that the Iraqi parliamentarians have been sitting on their thumbs. He asks why, given no progress in nearly two years, we should expect anything’s going to be different. In essence, “why should we take it that they’re serious about this whole ‘Democratic progress’ thing?”
Crocker says that everybody’s frustrated, but that the resolution of the ruling coalition to at some point talk about how they might draft reconciliation legislation back on the 26th shows they’re serious. And that’s it for evidence. He goes on to reassure that the Iraqis are indeed serious.
You work with what you have.
Next is Lantos, who is saying, “Petraeus, you think we should withdraw slower than other military commanders – who are not serving as commanders in Iraq. Why should we believe you?”
Petraeus cuts off the spirit of the question most riki tiki – he notes that the withdrawal he suggests for the next year will be quite substantial. He specifically states that Iran’s the reason we need to stick in there in a more serious way than – in Lantos’ words – “responsible military leaders”, active and retired, have noted we might. Lantos is asked which reports, and can’t cite anybody but Admiral Fallon, who Petraeus knows and says supports him.
He really doesn’t know what Lantos is talking about and, it seems, neither does Lantos. Someone needs a new assistant, or to remember to get printer toner before they go to the most significant hearing of the year so that they can print out reports.
Lantos isn’t done yet, though.
He notes that the current Administration would not be so keen on engaging in diplomacy with certain unsavory countries. He notes North Korea and Libya as cases where legislative pressure has compelled the White House to talk with them; that we would not “be as far down the road” with them were that not the case.
Considering that Libya is making huge bank off of freer trade with the West despite no change in their human rights record or ties to terrorism, and that North Korea’s having their way with us in terms of its nuclear program, I am not thinking Lantos should want the credit to fall to Congress. Furthermore, I don’t think it has to do with the legislature at all, as, well, there’s been no legislation to this effect.
But the question leads to, “will we talk with Iran?”
Crocker gives a lengthy “yes”, along with the caveat that the Iranians have done jack-nothing but string us along with diplomacy. They have sworn up and down that they want a stable Iraq, but say that there can’t be a stable Iraq with us in the country, and then prove their point by using the Police we trained to blow us up. Crocker sounds a bit pessimistic about Iranian diplomacy. Right there with you, Ambassador.
Lantos follows by noting that Maliki has said that he has “other friends in the region” if the US leaves – namely Iran. He asks if Crocker recognizes this and considers it a threat.
Crocker talks of all the nice things Maliki has said about the US and about how important we are to stability there. He then notes that Maliki criticized the wild violence that seriously screwed up the pilgrimage of his fellow Shia to Karbala. Lastly, the PM doesn’t speak Farsi. Crocker notes that a lot of people think that just because Iran’s Shia and Maliki is a Shia, it doesn’t mean they’re in cahoots – after all, remember the Iran-Iraq War?
This is true. But that Maliki is a long-time member and leader of the party that brought the Islamists to power in Iran in 1979, defeating the secular revolution there, is more evidence that they’re in cahoots. That and the Iranian bombs in the Ministry of the Interior his party controls that are blowing us up, and his personal efforts to mask such abuses and corruption from oversight.
And Ambassador, I do remember the Iran-Iraq War. It was started by Saddam, and seriously galvanized opposition by the Shia and Kurds against his government. I doubt Maliki celebrates it.
Duncan Hunter asks about what improvements in the Iraqi Army might be cited.
Petraeus says that more Sunni are signing up, and that the Army’s doing pretty good. Small elements in the force need to be “dealt with” due to sectarian influence in their ranks. This is, indeed, what most reports indicate. He notes that it’s a bit of problem to find officers, but that more are being trained and that a few former Army are being called to duty.
Hunter asks if Iran’s sending more equipment and troops in.
Petraeus’ answer, in short: “Yes indeed.”
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen speaks next, and, after yet another request that the Democrats all apologize for the MoveOn.org ad, asks what will happen if we withdraw troops too soon from Iraq. She goes on at length about how unstable and shiftless Syria and Iran are, and the tendency of Arabs to blame Israel for the ills of the region.
I’m not quite sure where she’s going with this. And I’m not sure if Petraeus tries to answer.
Petraeus responds by saying that shifting the policing of Iraq’s municipalities from a national force to local forces has calmed things appreciably. This has allowed the national forces to interdict the flow of bullets and bully-boys from other countries. That is true, and yet, only addresses the aspect of her question that pertained to other nations having a hand in Iraq’s fate – not about the consequences of a premature reduction, not about Israel or the Arab street’s opinions thereof, and not about MoveOn.org. This is all for the best, I think. Yet I would like to know if he would apply or dispel the specter of The Killing Fields.
Now comes the long awaited break.
I return to find Ackerman, a Democrat, exploding in a very arcane way about how Iraq’s not really part of the global war on terror, because if it is, we’d stay and kill every terrorist.
That’s insane on a number of levels. Petraeus seemed genuinely confused, but persisted in saying that wiping out al-Qaeda is both reasonable and key, whereas tamping down sectarian violence is another matter.
Now Burton, a Republican, asks a similarly slanted question – “would leaving Iraq early be a success or a failure in the war on terror?”
Simply by qualifying it as “early” kind of determines, by simple logic, what the answer is. Petraeus answers objectively by saying that allowing Iraq to be so unstable as to be a haven for al-Qaeda would, indeed, be a bad thing in the war on terror, but as far as asset management on a global scale, that’s not his fortee. If you need info on hunting Osama, go to the Special Forces.
More on al-Qaeda from Petraeus, talking about how it’s the “wolf closest to the sled”. They’re losing sanctuaries and strength, but they’re working to reconstitute. Putting emphasis and due pressure on them is the way to go, Petraeus says, and that’s true. He then nails the truth by saying that the long-term threat is Iran. Long-term and short-term in my opinion, as Iran’s attacks on us are now the majority of our losses. He goes on to note that the capture of the Lebanese Hizballah 2800 and an Iranian Special Forces officer have given us some alarming insight into the extent, lethality and determination of Iran’s infiltration of Iraq.
Where he throws my perspective for a loop is saying that Maliki is the most concerned about that problem. “Concerned” as in, “has a concern in it”? In any event, taken at his word, the government in Baghdad and the Pentagon are on the same page as far as Iran. I’m just not so sure.
Taylor, the next questioner, remarks rather sneeringly that he doesn’t see the Iraqis “standing up” – literally, according to his anecdote of visiting Petraeus’ HQ. Petraeus goes into how there were plenty of Iraqis just down the hall. This I’d believe. Taylor’s not impressed. He presses Petraeus for dates on when the Iraqis can take over.
Petraeus tells him there is a projected timeframe and rattles off some samples – after Ramadan; January 28th. Always, he’s ready with the details and direct in delivering them. In some ways, though, he’s trying to keep the focus on the immediate. I can understand this; he’s trying to get people to support him for real, short-term gains, not panic because Iran’s infiltration has reached a seemingly insoluble totality. His focus is laudable; it allows him to speak with authority, and he uses every inch of that. It also keeps the small but substantial foundation he’s building from being cracked by the weight of potential disasters.
In a particularly long-winded and complimentary way, a Representative from Samoa notes that General Shinseki was humiliated and dismissed for countering the Administration’s flawed plans before the war. Shinseki – too brilliant for me to adequately honor here – had, chief among his comments, that we needed more troops than the Administration said. Now, the Samoan asks, do we still mean more troops?
Petraeus goes diplomatic – notes that every commander wants more troops, but that he’s not hurting for their lack. He goes into how he’s trying to run his Divisions at 120% readiness, and if anyone could, it would be him. I somewhat wish he had addressed the question more directly, as I’m wondering if the troops really are adequate. I’m thinking that they aren’t. But I’m also thinking that we’ve reached the bottom of the barrel, and that Petraeus knows it, and recognizes that is better not voiced.
The next two questions were odd. First, a Representiative from Maryland, asking whether criteria of measuring sectarian violence were skewed to an absurd extent.
Petraeus said they weren’t, to his knowledge.
Then, Wallace inquires whether we’re able to sustain our military.
Petraeus noted we’re hanging on, reorganizing to augment that effort further.
Royce asked whether al-Qaeda’s complement in Iraq were being substantially reduced in the country. And heavy come the facts in response.
Petraeus remarks that al-Qaeda’s definitely fueled from outside, and that foreign fighters are filling fresh graves all the time – three officers from Turkey just the other day, for instance. He mentions that the surrounding countries are doing a good job of staunching them too – the last Saudi they saw had to take his own bus. This seems anecdotal, but indicative of good trends. His description of infiltration of the National Police is less than rosy, but again notes that Maliki’s fired up about weeding out corruption. That is a bit harder to buy than the Saudi terrorist chartering a bus.
Representative Abercrombie from Hawaii points out that the rate of US troop deaths have increased since last year.
I think he doesn’t quite get the whole “war” thing – contact with the enemy tends to cause more deaths. He fails to mention that our deaths have dropped substantially since the battles in Diyala halted. He then addresses that the Kurds did a shady deal that poured their oil into the pockets of the corporations while acing out the National government. Fancy the Kurds being shady. There was no question here – except about Abercrombie’s management of facts in a straightforward way.
The Democrat who follows him lists the long and sordid excuses, mistakes and distortions committed by the Administration relative to this war, and then asked, “how much longer is this going to go on?”
Petraeus locks onto the only part of her question-cum-monologue and notes that, indeed, the military’s a bit peaked after all this relentless scrapping. He says that he’s giving that serious condition its due by reducing troops as soon as the situation allows for it. The Surge could, legally and terms of supply, be drawn on until April of ’08. He emphasizes he won’t be doing that, and yet that no steps backward will be taken.
Payne begins to ask a decent question – why is the Iraqi military so slow in gathering competence in fighting al-Qaeda and “bandits that came in”? Then he goes off on a bizarre tangent, wondering why they did decently back in the 80s against Iran, and expressing his perplexity that they seem to relatively inept. That it was an entirely different military, with different equipment fighting a different war against a far different enemy didn’t occur, I suppose.
Petraeus side-steps it. He goes off on his own tangent, talking about how the Sunni militias that turned against al-Qaeda were motivated by a desire for territorial authority over their own security and laws. He also says that the GAO’s reported numbers about attacks are about five weeks too old. This might not seem substantial, but check out your headlines. Those five weeks have made a substantial difference.
Finally he comes to Payne’s question about why Saddam’s Army of the 80s isn’t doing as well – Petraeus explains it’s not around any longer. He points out that it was pretty thoroughly annihilated in the last two wars with us, and that the disestablishment of it post-War was a total dissolution. He makes no bones about the fact that building an army from the ashes of a corrupt entity, while under fire, is no mean feat.
After the break, nobody could find Ambassador Crocker. I’m not even going near the scads of Men’s Room jokes that just came to your mind. For shame.
Then another Representative talked about how sad he was about the MoveOn ad again. Everyone’s just broken all to pieces that MoveOn opposes the war with nasty remarks paid for by its own money. What’s the country coming to?
The question was about whether the Army was broken. This rather set Petraeus up for a stirring story about soldiers re-enlisting. But rather have it be merely a sop to the Red State view of the world, he pointed out that the soldiers are not “starry-eyed idealists” and that “morale is an individual thing”. And in case Petraeus doesn’t come across with the reasons for these re-enlistments directly, I’ll point out a factor that is more present and powerful than some zealous faith in our foreign policy:
Nobody likes to leave their friends in Hell.
Then he does mention it – that it’s the men and women to the left and right of you that motivate you to stick this through no matter what. It’s got nothing to do with American policy, everything to do with being an American soldier.
I wrote more – believe me; it was amusing.
I covered Wexler’s rant full of lies that he used to denounce the lies of the war’s proponents. I covered Jones’ really, really nice criticisms. I covered Thornberry trying to put Petraeus into a logic puzzle that could only be solved by advocating a massive military assault on Iran.
And best of all, I covered Sherman, who had some very interesting ideas about al-Qaeda – namely that they’re tricking us into believing that Iraq is their central front – and wanted to know if Petraeus would disobey orders from the President. Good times!
A technical glitch on my blog ate it all.
Suffice it to say that the above trends held true:
Petraeus was competent, focused on getting support for his efforts in Iraq, and as direct as possible.
Crocker seemed like he was trying to pass a sow’s ear off as a silk purse in his portrayal of the Baghdad government as some kind of philosophical cadre of vexed-yet-noble founding fathers.
And the Congresspersons really, really liked to hear themselves talk and did all they could to stand out.
No shockers. No shifts in perspective – save that perhaps Maliki isn’t really a crony of Iran, but, on second thought, nah, he probably is. And no real problems with the General’s superb testimony.
Save that, for all this effort, it is all the more clear that it’s not Washington, but Baghdad, that lacks the resolve to end this conflict.