Looking Past Petraeus

| Thu Sep. 6, 2007 4:15 PM EDT

This morning, in the ornate (and over air-conditioned) Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building, members of the combined House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees convened a hearing called, "Beyond the September Report: What's Next for Iraq?" Testifying was former Clinton Defense Secretary William Perry, retired Army Major General John Batiste, and retired Army Chief of Staff Jack Keane.

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are scheduled to appear before both committees early next week, but today's event was apparently meant as a preemptive strike against any good news they might deliver. As House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos said in his opening statement:

It would be refreshing if these two capable and dedicated men would outline a new plan that would redeploy our troops and bring them home from Iraq. But I expect instead that the September report—written not by one of our great military leaders and one of our most capable diplomats, but by Administration political operatives—will be a regurgitation of the same failed Iraq strategy. I expect this report will be replete with the same litany of requests—more troops, more money, more patience—and all in the unlikely belief that our intervention in a bloody, religiously-based civil war will bear fruit.

Lantos' statement was challenged by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, who objected to the very premise of the hearing. "We should consider next steps only after we have reviewed all reports and presentations," she argued, in reference to the forthcoming Petraeus/Crocker report. Duncan Hunter, her Republican counterpart on the Armed Services Committee, agreed. "I hope the purpose of this hearing is not to discredit General Petraeus before he takes the stand," he said.

Such disagreement was no less apparent among the committees' three witnesses. Perry and Batiste, the first to testify, delivered warnings that the U.S. military is stretched beyond the breaking point and must withdraw from Iraq to save itself from catastrophic damage. Perry cautioned that it took years to rebuild the U.S. Army after Vietnam and said that, without a change in course, it might well collapse again. Batiste said the Bush Administration "has ignored the lessons of history" and suggested that the 'surge' in Baghdad "has had little effect on country-wide violence." "This is a no-win situation," he continued. "When the surge culminates, and culminate it will, the civil war will intensify."

Keane, just back from two weeks in Baghdad (seriously, who isn't these days?), took exception to these grim accountings. As one of the architects of the 'surge' strategy (see this January 2007 report he wrote with AEI's Fred Kagan), he defended the "remarkable progress" being made in Anbar province and in Baghdad. "We're on the offensive, and we have momentum," he said. "I don't know how throwing in the towel and losing the war would help us strategically in the world." He worked his way through a checklist of successes he claimed to have seen in Baghdad: schools, hospitals, markets, and cafes are open; Al Qaeda is "on the run;" and the Sunni insurgency "is rapidly fading away." Sounds familiar, right? Some of this success he attributed to the cumulative effect of Iraq's intense violence. "One of the ways you defeat an insurgency is people get exhausted," he said. "They get exhausted from the violence. This is what is happening in Iraq."

Click here and here to read my earlier posts about this week's Iraq debate in Congress.

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