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Following on yesterday's lackluster performance by their Senate colleagues, House Democrats, if this morning's Armed Services Committee hearing is any indication, will show themselves to be equally cowed by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the top-ranking military and diplomatic figures in Iraq, and just as unwilling to bring serious challenge to the larger theme promulgated by the morning's testimony—namely that, while "reversible," security (if not political) gains in Iraq are real and the result of an enlightened strategy. Certainly, in this morning's hearing, Democrats failed to subject their witnesses to the sort of aggressive questioning we might have expected from a party that took control of the Congress determined to challenge Bush administration policy in Iraq and, as of last summer, remained determined to affect significant short-term troop withdrawals.
This is not say that there was no loyal opposition to the Petraeus/Crocker message of cautious optimism, but simply to call attention to how exceedingly, excessively, and deferentially loyal it was. Perhaps the most significant challenge to the administration's narrative came from Rep. John Spratt, Democrat of South Carolina, who used his allotted five minutes to display charts showing the tremendous cost of the war to date, as well as projections from the Congressional Budget Office (the Pentagon refuses to speculate on such things) that by 2018, assuming troop levels have already declined to 75,000 by 2013, the U.S. government will have shelled out more than $2 trillion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The point, Spratt said, was that "whenever you spend $2 trillion on one thing, you don't have it for something else"—whether that "something else" is stepped up operations in Afghanistan, reinvestment in the strategic readiness of U.S. forces for future high-intensity conflicts, or any number of other things you can imagine the federal government might do with a couple trillion bucks.