Half an hour in, we're still basically in the throat-clearing part of the proceedings -- and three speeches in it's a tale of two wars and one nitty gritty.
Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Michigan) called the hearing to order with a plea for the U.S. to shift responsibility to the Iraq government. It's time, he said, to take off the training wheels and to take our hands off the Iraqi bike seat. He emphasized the recent violence in Basra as evidence that the surge has not achieved its stated political and military goals.
John McCain (R-Arizona, but you knew that) spoke next, and put forward a message of cautious hope. The surge came after four years of mismanaged war, when "full scale civil war seemed almost unavoidable." And even though there's more work to be done, he argued, the surge has created an improved security situation that can lead to political reconciliation. So, he said, "we are no longer staring into the abyss of defeat." In general, he stressed many themes (and actual lines) that you might have heard in his stump speech over the last few weeks.
Gen. David Petraeus's statement was careful and chocked full of numbers. There has been significant U.S. progress in Iraq, he told the committee, but gains are "fragile and reversible." Iraq added 100,000 soldiers and police officers in 2007 as a result of a surge, he argued, and they're slowly increasing their abilities.
The surge should continue to July, he said, at which point there can be time for "consolidation and evaluation." See update below.
Ambassador Ryan Crocker is speaking now (and just repeated Petraeus's line that U.S. gains "are fragile and reversible"). More soon.
Just six comments in response to blather. I post this weeks after.
As a veteran I am familiar with the wonderful clarity of order. Exceptionally clear language that half wits can get instantaneously. The Congress here, I sense, is perceived as the enemy.
Military languange is well presented in the Taguba report. That clarity is critical for a military to function. (NOT that hill, the other hill)
George Orwell wrote clearly on this 60 years ago:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Here it is in modern English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account. ____ from Politics and the English Language (1946)
You know the fine General had to practice to say as little in so much time as he did. Was he miming Orwell or was it Greenspan? But he did it under orders, for that is what good soldiers do.
The problem lies up the chain.
More on the "Sons of Iraq" which, among other things, Petraeus said have already found more weapons caches in 2008 than were found in all of 2006.
So I got a bit confused by Petraeus's speech with regard to timelines, drawdowns, consolidation, evaluation, and assessment. Here's a longer excerpt, courtesy of Talking Points Memo:
"After weighing these factors, I recommended to my chain of command that we continue the drawdown in the surge to the combat forces and that upon the withdrawal of the last surge brigade combat team in July, we undertake a 45-day period of consolidation and evaluation. At the end of that period, we will commence a process of assessment to examine the conditions on the ground and over time determine when we can make recommendations for further reductions. This process will be continuous, with recommendations for further reductions made as conditions permit.
This approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable, however it does provide the flexibility those of us on the ground need to preserve the still-fragile security gains our troops have fought so far and sacrifice so much to achieve."
Sen. Clinton is speaking, and she's spending a fair amount of her allotted time giving a speech. "It's time to begin an orderly process of withdrawing our troops," she said. And she emphasized, like Levin, that the surge's stated goals -- in particular of creating a space in which political reconciliation can occur -- have not been met. Like McCain before her, her basic line of argument won't have surprised anyone who has been following her presidential run.
One interesting back and forth with Petraeus: What conditions would have to exist for you to recommend to the president that the current strategy isn't working?
In rough terms, his answer: We have a number of factors that we'll consider by area. They're fairly clear. There's an enemy situation factor. A friendly situation factor. And political dynamics... There is this term battlefield geometry.
Interesting that Petraeus can predict with such precision a timetable for stopping the surge and precisely how long to "consolidate and evaluate" but is absolutely confounded by the idea of a timetable for withdrawal.
As an aside I find it funny in an odd way that Bush "listens to his Generals" only when they agree with the extremist right-wing Bush/Cheney/PNAC ideology but when Admiral Fallon disagreed with them he got purged like all the rest, Shinseki etc. Bush/Cheney surround themselves with yes-men and get rid of the dissonant voices of reality.
Some of the Congressmen have started saying that the forces in Iraq are the new Greatest Generation but the reality is that The Greatest Generation fought against people like Bush/Cheney who commited the crime War of Aggression against Iraq just like Hitler commited the same crime against Poland. And The Greatest Generation defined that particular War Crime at Nuremberg.
What an insult to the people who fought on the good side in World War Two, and many of my family were in that War.
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