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Inch the price up, a dollar here, a dollar there. Customers rarely notice. On the day of the big sale, “slash” prices and people will come, buy, plunk down dollars and pay what you would have gotten in the first place — and they’ll be happy that they think they got a deal.
That’s what unfolded this afternoon on the Senate floor before the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as General David Petraeus made a case for keeping the war in Iraq alive even as he concedes the next nine months of war will cost America “60 soldiers a day” and “nine billion dollars a month.”
Petraus tried to sell the prospect of drawdown in US troop levels that were in fact a pulling of troops who are part of the President’s highly touted 2007 “surge,” and would not likely affect the base number of troops — 130,000 — for another 9-12 months.
The hearings, scheduled to play out against the backdrop of September 11 memorial services and overshadowed by taunting new messages from Osama Bin Laden, seemed designed to maximize the memory of terror, a strategic move that uses fear to possibly strengthen the weakening position of President Bush and play to the fears of a public voicing increasing discontent with the state of the Iraq War. Although the tough questions flew from both sides of the political aisle, and Democrats were distinctly supportive of troops but not policy, the Republican Senators seemed particularly intense, an indicator that many are shying away from Bush policies and paying more attention to an ever more discontent public on this issue.
Petraeus’ assessment that violence in Iraq has fallen since the U.S. buildup was questioned last week in a report by the Government Accountability Office, which found the average number of daily attacks against civilians had remained about the same during the past six months.
Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker have been presenting testimony and fielding questions for two days, presenting their views of the war and the state of Iraq, which Crocker says continues to have a “dysfunctional” government but the good news is that the Iraqi government “knows it is dysfunctional.” That’s reassuring.
Petraeus admitted more than once that he would be “hard pressed to recommend continuation of the war” past March, 2008, if “significant” progress was not made in areas of governance and the ability of the Iraqi forces to “shoulder the weight of the load” in terms of security and the insurgency.
Petraeus said the “surge” on troop strength — 30,000 soldiers — has made a marginal difference and those troops could possibly be phased down and brought home by July, 2008, Petraeus suggested, leaving troop levels “reduced” to the pre-surge level of about 130,000.
Yes, it addressed the issues of pulling out troops, but this drawdown sounds more like a bait-and-switch sales pitch that would leave President Bush and company still firmly entrenched in Iraq with no end in sight, 130,000 troops still battling it out in the Middle East, and the American taxpayers picking up the tab and burying their dead just as the Iraqis will continue to do.
Tom Lantos, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, dismissed Petraeus’ proposed withdrawal as “token” and said U.S. troops must get out now.
What would happen in July 2008 if progress doesn’t meet expectations? In a burst of candor, without a smile, and with a somber look in his eyes, Petraeus said he would be hard pressed to push for a ‘stay the course’ option without clear cut evidence of progress. Probably not what the President wants to hear.
Sen. Robert Menedez (D-New Jersey) asked:
To give him credit, Petraeus seemed unflappable under fire and blunt in his assessment — the good, bad and ugly — of the Iraq war as he fielded an endless flow of tough question after tough question. His biggest concerns about future progress in Iraq related less to troops and the Iraq people and more on issues of leadership of this fledgling Democracy. Diplomacy, and issues rewarding the establishment and sustenance of an effective Iraqi government as the biggest priority.
Sen. Russ Feingold ( -Wisconsin) pressured the general to estimate when a significant drop in American deaths in Iraq could be expected. Petraeus answered:
He asked Petraeus and Crocker whether Pakistan or Iraq is more important to the fight against al Qaeda but neither responded, instead sitting in uncomfortable silence.
For its part, Senators of both parties held tightly to their eight minute limit for statements and questions, with one senator after another punching out requests for very specific information and many trying to not repeat questions already asked and answered.
Barrack Obama waxed eloquent and succinct as he said the war “continues to be a disastrous policy mistake.”
Republican senators tossed out some of the toughest questions, easily rivaling those asked by Democratic presidential hopefuls on the panel. Here’s what some of them had to say:
— Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Indiana)
Lugar was concerned about the strain imposed on the American military by extended deployments, which have been increased from 12 to 15 months while stateside time has not changed, and in some cases has been reduced.
Republican support for the Iraq war remains on shaky ground in Congress, epitomized by Lugar’s opening statement Tuesday and Hagel’s heated questioning of the general’s recommendations. But that support wasn’t lost.
Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut) introduced the other “I” word to the Q&A: Iran. Lieberman pressed for information on insurgency supports that might be funneled through Iran and Syria, probing, it seemed, for a reason to justify and expansion of the Iraq war into one or both of those countries. Petraeus didn’t bite, and said he was concerned only with what was happening in Iraq. The question felt like a “testing of the waters” on expansion of Middle Eastern conflicts and the response was one of the few that actually felt evasive. Pay attention, people.
As I listened to two days of hearings, I was particularly impressed with the statement presented by BarackObama (D-Illinios), and decided to add his statement in full as a conclusion to this article, since it is the most comprehensive summation of the day and sums up the issues and concerns voiced by all other congressional Representatives and Senators.
Below is Senator Obama’s statement as prepared for delivery at the Senate Hearing today:
TopicsAmbassador Crocker, Barrack Obama, Congressional hearings, GAO, Gen. Petraeus, Iraq War, Troop drawdown
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