Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker trooped up to Capitol Hill this week to deliver their second Iraq progress report. It was all fascinating — encouraging, really, if you’re not invested intellectually or politically in American defeat there — but you have to wonder why certain lawmakers bothered showing up. “Iraq progress report,” for them, appears to be a contradiction in terms. There can be no progress there because (a) we’ve already lost or (b) they’re convinced we can never succeed.
Poor Petraeus and Crocker. They come all the way from Baghdad to appear at congressional hearings that they didn’t call. They provide a factual, measured accounting of what’s been achieved since the implementation of the surge last year and their first progress report last September. And their words mean nothing to many of the assembled grandees.
“Since Ambassador Crocker and I appeared before you seven months ago, there has been significant but uneven security progress in Iraq . . ., ” Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday morning. “[L]evels of violence and civilian deaths have been reduced substantially, al-Qaida-Iraq and a number of other extremist elements have been dealt serious blows, the capabilities of Iraqi security force elements have grown, and there has been noteworthy involvement of local Iraqis in local security.”
In Petraeus-Crocker II, anti-war Democrats and their media enablers who didn’t question the military progress — or Petraeus’ credibility — bemoaned the lack of Iraqi political reconciliation. This week, however, Crocker had much to report. “In the last several months . . . Iraq’s parliament has formulated, debated vigorously, and in many cases passed legislation dealing with vital issues of reconciliation and nation building,” he testified, reporting the completion of 12 of the 18 benchmarks — de-Baathification reform, an amnesty law, passage of a budget, a provincial powers law with October 2008 elections. He even pointed up the upside of the recent fighting in Basra: the (Shiite) Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki government took the lead in going after thugs and extremists regardless of their sectarian (Shiite) identity.
Here, according to Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was the problem with their testimony: The general and the diplomat’s report of significant if fragile progress “describes one Iraq while we see another” (italics mine).
You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Congress requires that Petraeus and Crocker return home from Baghdad to provide an in-the-flesh update, and the Massachusetts Democrat and anti-war foghorn tells them that’s not the Iraq “we” see.
And people wonder who was the inspiration for the Beatles’ song, “Fool on the Hill.”
Maybe Congress should have just asked Kennedy to send in an Iraq progress report from the bar at Washington’s Monocle Restaurant. It would have, at least, saved money on travel expenses, though maybe not. The guess here, however, is that the American public has more faith in the vision of two people — two distinguished career civil servants, by the way — who live this stuff every day in Iraq.
Kennedy was only the most flagrant example of Capitol Hill commanders reporting to Petraeus and Crocker on what’s really going on in Iraq. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said the main goal of the surge — providing space for Iraqis to reach a political settlement — “has not been achieved,” and Sen. Hillary Clinton talked about “the lack of political progress over the last six months.” California Sen. Barbara Boxer said that “I just don’t see anything changing there.”
Yes, Petraeus and Crocker must be mistaken.
One senator did offer Petraeus and Crocker a spot-on battlefield assessment. It came, as so often is the case these days, from Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, but it concerned the battle over Iraq on Capitol Hill and across the United States: “[W]ith respect to my colleagues who have consistently opposed our presence in Iraq, as I hear the questions and the statements today, it seems to me that there’s a kind of hear no progress in Iraq, see no progress and most of all, speak of no progress.”
Precisely. And thus it has ever been.
Why then do they bother to show up? Maybe just to tell the cameras that they support our troops.
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