12:35: The hearing just started, with some members of the audience being escorted out immediately. Of course. Ike Skelton asked "Are they gone?" before continuing.
12:36: Mr. Skelton reminds us that this is one of the "most important hearings" of the year. That's the kind of hard-hitting analysis we're looking forward to today.
12:39: Mr. Skelton is already within a few seconds of breaking the "5-minute rule" he called for just 5 minutes ago. Because we've been waiting six months for the Skelton report.
12:44: By 5 minutes, he meant 10. At least he's not as tone-deaf as MoveOn.org, which called Petraeus "General Betray Us" in an ad published in the Times today.
12:46: Tom Lantos, the Foreign Affairs chairman, takes his turn. It's worth noting that he has two son-in-laws. They're named Dick Swett and Timber Dick. Really.
12:48: First reference to "ammo dumps." Worth noting.
12:49: Lantos says we can't take anything the administration says about Iraq "at face value." He doesn't "buy" the idea that victory is at hand.
12:51: Lantos joins the chorus of voices attacking Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He calls him a "front man for Shiite partisans," and accusing him of being aligned with "notorious militias, death squads, and sectarian thugs."
12:54: Lantos: "We are wrecking our military... and limiting our ability to address our global military needs."
12:56: Duncan Hunter is the first Republican to speak. He says Democrats have been attacking Petraeus' credibility. Also he says that he "knows" that Petraeus' testimony hasn't been written by political operatives, even though multiple news reports have said that the testimony has been put together by the White House. That's one!
1:00: Difficulty with the facts number two: Duncan Hunter is the first Republican to claim that progress in Anbar Province is related to the surge. This is not the case.
1:02: First Reagan reference! Who had 1:02 in the pool?
1:03: Hunter compares Petraeus to Eisenhower, too. Is Petraeus going to run for president? Our own Dan Schulman investigates.
1:07: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen trusts Petraeus' "reporting."
1:10: More on the MoveOn ad from Ros-Lehtinen. It could be backfiring.
1:11: First Neville Chamberlain reference.
1:15: Petraeus takes the floor. The acoustics in here are "not good at all," Skelton warns. Then someone asks where the statement is. "It should be passed out by now," Skelton says.
1:16: Brian Williams on MSNBC said that the Commander of U.S. forces in Iraq is powerless in the face of a broken microphone.
1:17: Another person is removed for "making a disturbance." "Is it fixed?"
1:18: Where's Petraeus' statement? Is it with the Weapons of Mass Destruction?
1:19: Skelton can't find Burton. Burton recommends being very firm in geting them out of here. "i still see them out there. "Who's speaking?" "This is a very important hearing!"
1:20: "That really pisses me off, dammit." Skelton doesn't know that we can hear him cursing.
1:23: It'll take 5 minutes to fix the microphone. Good enough for government work.
1:29: Petraeus finally gets going. Shocker number one: the surge is succeeding militarily.
1:32: Petraeus cites the progress with the Sunni tribes, which we've already noted started before the surge began and is unrelated to increased troop numbers.
1:33: It's the Iraqis fault that their country is in chaos. Apparently competition between ethnic groups is the cause of violence in Iraq. Also Iran and Syria are making it worse.
1:35: General Petraeus, the "Ross Perot of the military," loves his charts.
1:36: They used non-kinetic means, apparently.
1:37: "We do not rely on gut feel." What's he doing working for The Decider?
1:40: OOOOOOOOOHHHHHH pretty pictures! The man really loves his charts.
1:41: They've found and cleared over 4,100 caches of weapons and bombs this year. How many of the 180,000 missing guns did they find?
1:42: Anbar again. Again, it has nothing to do with the surge.
1:43: A steady decline in the past three months sounds impressive, but attacks always decline as the weather gets hotter during the summer.
1:44: Iran wants to use insurgents in Iraq as a proxy force to attack coalition forces. Also, more protesters just got kicked out for yelling.
1:45: Anbar again! And Petraeus acknowledges it is "unique."
1:47: More charts!
1:48: 445,000 people "on the payrolls" of the Iraqi security forces. How many of them actually show up to work? How many of them are real?
1:49: Sounds like he's wrapping up now... "to summarize.... the United States will be in a position to reduce its forces in Iraq in the months ahead."
1:52: Petraeus is proposing a draw-down to pre-surge levels by mid-July 2008. And then we can use the extra forces to attack Iran!!!
1:53: Projecting "too far into the future" is difficult and misleading.
1:54: In mid-March, he'll come back and ask for another Friedman unit.
1:56: Petraeus wants to keep the mission the same — "counterinsurgency and stabilization"
1:57: He believes Iraq's problems need a "long-term effort," and warns against a rapid withdrawal. How long-term?
1:59: Hooray for the military-industrial complex! More defense funding now!
2:00: Someone starts screaming: "General Petraeus, the American people don't believe you anymore!" They're really loud. Cindy Sheehan was among those arrested earlier, according to Brian Williams.
2:01: Skelton announces that "We will prosecute [protesters] under the law. This is intolerable.... And I hope that everything that's considering it understands, because they will be prosecuted."
2:04: Crocker starts his portion of the report.
2:05: Crocker: There will be no moment at which we can claim victory, [because] any turning point will only be recognized in retrospect.
2:06: Saddam Hussein was a very very very bad man. Check.
2:08: "It's not an exaggeration to say that Iraq is, and will for some time to come, remain a traumatized society."
2:10: Crocker seems to be advocating a federal system.
2:11: Without the proclamation of a general amnesty, we see provisional immunity being granted. "The seeds of reconciliation are being planted." What about the ethnic cleansing? Are sectarian killings "seeds of reconciliation?"
2:12: Is Iraq's government ready to support reconciliation? "The commitment of its leaders to work together on big issues is encouraging."
2:15: Crocker is impressed that the government of Iraq wants the U.S. forces to stay. Because, you know, they don't need U.S. protection to stay in power.
2:16: "The landscape in Anbar is dramatically different." (Because of a stroke of good luck.)
2:17: The world should note that when Al Qaeda began implementing its twisted version of a Caliphate, the Iraqis rejected it.
2:18: TPM has Petraeus' charts.
2:20: Again with the (pay)rolls. Just because someone's getting a check doesn't mean they're doing what we want.
2:22: Iraqi businessmen have their conferences in Dubai. Duly noted.
2:23: "Insecurity in many parts of the country" and "woefully inadequate" electricity hurts the Iraqi economy.
2:25: For the first time in years, Iraq is exporting its oil through Turkey. Progress! And Saudi Arabia is opening an embassy in Baghdad! Because the Saudis, you know, are good. (Even though Osama bin Laden is Saudi, as were most of the 9/11 hijackers).
2:26: But while the Saudis are good, the Syrians are bad, and the Iranians are REALLY bad. (Because the Iranians attacked us. Oh wait.) They "undermine-a-ded" progress in Iraq. Did the President write that part?
2:28: "We must acknowledge that 2006 was a bad year in Iraq. The country came close to unraveling economically, politically, and in security terms..." Thank god it didn't.
2:30: "I cannot guarantee success in Iraq. It is attainable. I am certain that abandoning our efforts will bring failure." Iraq might fall into civil war! Iran would be a winner in this scenario. (You know, because taking out Iran's biggest rival didn't help it at all).
2:32: "Our current course is hard, the alternatives are far worse."
2:34: Crocker wants an "enterprise fund" to make equity investments in Iraqi businesses. Along the lines of one that is in effect in Poland, apparently. He also wants to instill "the habits of preventative maintenance," because apparently Arabs need to be taught such things. Guess it's never too late for a little imperial/racist rhetoric. Thank god the government of the glorious United States already knows all about preventative maintenance. You should see how well our bridges hold up!
2:36: Skelton: "Why should we expect the next six months to be any different than it has been in the past?" Crocker: "You are frustrated, I'm frustrated, we're all frustrated, but this stuff is incredibly complicated!"
2:38: Crocker: "I do not expect that we'll see rapid progress to these benchmarks.... I would certainly share disappointment that progress has been slow on legislative benchmarks, but that does not mean progress has not been made on national reconciliation."
2:40: Lantos calls Petraeus' proposal a "token" withdrawal. Petraeus disagrees, and warns against "rushing to failure."
2:43: Who wants to hear the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee say the word "lubricated"? Not me, but I guess that's too bad.
2:45: Lantos criticizes the Bush administration for being unwilling to conduct diplomacy with countries we don't like (Read: Syria and Iran), and asks Crocker for his opinion of expanding relations with those countries.
2:47: Crocker says that Iran "wants to be seen to be at the table"... and says that if Iran is willing to take substantive measures to improve Iraqi security, then the U.S. is prepared to talk more. But right now, he says he hasn't seen any sign of earnestness or seriousness on the part of Iran.
2:49: GREAT question from Lantos about the connections between the current Iraqi leadership and Iran. "Is it possible that Maliki or others might at sometime in the future as a 'more dependable' friend?" The essence of Crocker's response is that sometime politicians say things they don't mean.
2:55: Duncan Hunter asks about the Iraqi army, and Petraeus says things are going well, all things considered.
3:00: Petraeus: It appears that the flow of Iranian weapons into Iraq has increased, although the Quds force and Lebanon Hezbollah trainers have left.
3:02: The "young lady" from Florida, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, calls again for Dems to "distance themselves" from the MoveOn ad. But someone calls for a point of order: Dems don't have "to distance themselves from something they weren't associated with."
3:06: Ros-Lehtinen asks whether Iraq could become an Al-Qaeda sanctuary after a "premature withdrawal," and asks how the U.S. could get more countries to support Iraq positively. Petraeus restates American goals, and points to some progress interdicting Iranian weapons as well as suicide bombers entering through Syria. Crocker points to visits from Swedish and French ministers.
3:11: Crocker looks forward to upcoming conferences in New York and Istanbul as opportunities for diplomatic progress.
3:14: First scheduled break - should be at least five minutes.
3:18: C-SPAN reports that this room is rarely used for hearings, but was used for House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in the 1940s.
3:27: And.... we're back! John Spratt (D-SC) says that the war has cost over $600 billion so far and offers a CBO report that says it could cost almost another $1 trillion over the next five years.
3:28: Spratt asks (paraphrase): "If the purpose of the surge was to produce space so we can achieve political reconciliation, why haven't we seen progress on this front?" Crocker says we're seeing "signs" of political reconciliation. "We can see it because I think we are seeing it, ... [but] I can't give you a time line."
3:33: Howard Berman (D-Another Old White Guy) asks Petraeus whether Petraeus believes this is not the time for a mission change away from counterinsurgency. Petraeus says that's right. Than Berman lobs a softball about the refugee situation, which Petraeus clobbers.
3:39: It's hilarious how every congressman likes to talk about the first time they met Petraeus. Who is he, Lindsay Lohan? "I know General Petraeus! I'm so cool!" Or are we watching some weird version of "When David Met Jimmy"?
3:41: Yet another disturbance... "How can you thank him for his service?!?" Skelton: "Take them into custody."
3:45: The Republicans are proceeding with a transparent line of questioning, repeatedly asking what the consequences will be if we prematurely withdraw. Quite effective.
3:50: Crocker: "There is nothing inherently wrong with the benchmarks," [How generous!] but "conditions are not yet in place for achieving them."
3:53: Petraeus: "The ambassador and I are joined at the hip" (in saying you can't win in Iraq JUST in Iraq...).
3:56: Gary Ackerman (D-NY) asks why no one has mentioned the 'International War on Terrorism....' There's the sizzle and the steak.... It seems to me that we're trying to be in the middle of a dysfunctional violent family. Can we afford to put a cop in every bad marriage, even when the parties aren't going to counseling? How long do we stay? I don't know when that will happen. While we wait for this to happen, how much more blood should we invest? If it takes another four years, I'd like to know from each of you your best realistic view of Iraq will be in those four years.... will this be worth it?"
4:00: Petraeus says AQI is part of the Al Qaeda movement, but Ackerman angrily points out that AQI was founded in 2005, after we got to Iraq.
4:03: John McHugh (R-NY) asks if Iraq is an important part of the Global War on Terror. Petraeus says defeating AQI is. Then he asks if "abandoning Iraq" to focus on Afghanistan would be a net plus or minus for the Global War on Terror. Petraeus doesn't answer the question.
4:09: Crocker loves talking about how "difficult" and "complicated" the situation is. Hard-hitting! Serious!
4:10: Competing headlines on Petraeus' testimony in the New York Times and Washington Post. The New York Times: Slow Progress Being Made in Iraq, Petraeus Tells Congress. The Washington Post: Petraeus Claims Major Progress Following 'Surge'
4:20: The Democratic delegate from American Samoa, Eni Faleomavaega, asks if the military currently has the capacity to fight in Aghanistan, Iraq, and a third potential conflict. Petraeus says he shares the concern, and said it was one of the factors that informed his decision to draw down between now and next summer.
4:24: Petraeus: There has never been a military commander in history who didn't want more forces, more allies, etc... [Then why does he want us to draw down? Why not send more?]
4:29: Awww.... Mr Jeff Davis (R-KY), the Republicans' most junior member, is going to get a chance to speak. How nice.
4:41: Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Beards) continues the trend of non-question questions. You've got to love how much these people like to talk.
4:50: And now for something completely different: Donald Payne is (we think) the first African-American person to get a say in the hearing, and it's only been almost 5 hours!
5:00: They're taking a break, and we're done for the day. It's been swell. I'll leave you with the fact that someone just said "You've done a heck of a job" in the background. Seriously. More "Live Team Coverage" tomorrow. Be here.