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Once again, Gen. Petraeus was asked about how long it will take to draw down to his strategy's envisioned end state of five U.S. brigades on an "overwatch" mission. And once again he dodged, saying when the reductions need to take place will have to wait until "we get closer each of those times."

In the hearings' most stunning moment so far, Sen. John Warner (R-VA) asked Gen. Petraeus if success in the Iraq war will make America safer. His response -- by far the most surprising moment of the hearings -- was a blunt "I don't know." This is the first time that any general officer, let alone the commanding general in Iraq, has ever equivocated on whether success in Iraq will contribute to U.S. security.

By contrast, President Bush describes a victory in Iraq as an epochal achievement for America and a potentially decisive blow to terrorism. For instance: "[The terrorists] know that the success of a free Iraq, who can be a key ally in the war on terror and a symbol of success for others, will be a crushing blow to their strategy to dominate the region, and threaten America and the free world."

Video of the exchange to come shortly.

Update: Here's the video.

Months ago, Amb. Crocker told Joe Klein of Time magazine that "The fall of the Maliki government, when it happens, might be a good thing." Or did he? Asked by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) if that was an accurate quote, Crocker equivocated repeatedly before finally saying "I do not recall saying that."

What does Klein think about Crocker's memory?

Update: Here's Klein's response: "He said it. I've got it in my notes. He never denied it or asked for a correction after it appeared in print and was featured on Meet the Press. He may not remember it, but he said it."

National coverage of the Gov. Don Siegelman (D-AL) controversy has centered on Republican lawyer Dana Jill Simpson's affidavit, but today The New York Times raises questions about another aspect of the case: the independence of prosecutor Lois V. Franklin.

Franklin took over the case after US attorney Leura Canary recused herself because of her husband's ties to the Republican Party and Karl Rove. Franklin has claimed a startling degree of independence from the Department of Justice and Canary.

The New York Times points to some unresolved issues there:

Yet questions about the Siegelman case persist, including about whether Mr. Franklin played the decisive role he says he did, and not just among the former governor’s supporters.

For one thing, the prosecution of a high official like a governor is nearly always undertaken under the watchful eye of Justice Department officials in Washington, former government lawyers say.

One of Mr. Siegelman’s former lawyers, G. Douglas Jones, former United States attorney in Birmingham, says that at a crucial moment in 2004, when the Siegelman investigation seemed to be flagging, he was told by government prosecutors in Montgomery that the “folks in Washington said, ‘Take another look at everything.’ ”

Referring to a unit of the Justice Department, Mr. Jones said, “There is no question but that the Public Integrity Section was intimately involved.”

Something that's passed without notice in the hearings today and yesterday is that Gen. Petraeus cheered Iraq "becoming one of the U.S.'s larger foreign military sales customers." According to the general, Iraq has committed $1.6 billion already to the Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales program, and might commit another $1.8 billion before the end of the year. A few minutes ago, he told Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that "we have to push the [foreign military sales] system" to get more weapons into Iraqi hands.

This is a pattern with Petraeus. When he commanded the training and equipping of Iraqi forces, almost 200,000 pistols and AK-47s intended for the Iraqi security forces went missing. Petraeus forthrightly said recently that he didn't think having safeguards in place to ensure the weapons were in the proper hands was as important as simply getting a slow-moving Pentagon bureaucracy to ship the weapons to Iraq. That decision, however, was one of several that has occasioned an unprecedented Pentagon Inspector General mission to Iraq to determine the extent of mismanagement and corruption -- and possibly even criminal activity -- in the sprawling logistics system.

Now, Petraeus seems to be saying that the Iraqi security forces need a surge of U.S. weaponry. It's admirable that Petraeus is trying to rapidly increase the competence and capability of the Iraqi security forces -- the lack of which makes up a large part of bipartisan criticism of the war. But what safeguards does Petraeus have in place to ensure that those guns won't end up on the black market, or in the hands of U.S. enemies?

Perhaps the most difficult question for Iraq, no matter where you stand on withdrawal, is what happens after the U.S. leaves. Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) asked Amb. Crocker what confidence he had that the Anbar tribal shift against al-Qaeda could take hold in the absence of the U.S., and Crocker answered that the Iraqi government is investing billions in infrastructure development, including in Anbar. Fine, Sununu asked; but what will ensure that the Iraqi government will spend that money?

Crocker's answer: "There are a number of mechanisms Iraq has in place," including inspectors general in the ministries and the Commission on Public Integrity, to guard against corruption. Are they at all competent? "To a degree," Crocker said.

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Is it more important to fight al-Qaeda in Pakistan or al-Qaeda in Iraq? was Sen. Russ Feingold's (D-WI) question.

It was a fair one for Amb. Crocker, who came to Iraq after serving for nearly two years as ambassador to Pakistan. Crocker, anticipating where Feingold was clearly going with this, diplomatically answered, "I did not feel as Ambassador to Pakistan that the focus, the resources and the people needed to deal with that situation weren't available or weren't there because of Iraq." And yet, the July National Intelligence Estimate found that al-Qaeda Senior Leadership, as it's called, has reestablished a "safehaven" in the tribal areas of Pakistan. So Crocker didn't exactly "deal with that situation" satisfactorily. When Feingold pressed again for an answer, Crocker gave another diplomatic version: "In my view, fighting al-Qaeda is what's important, whatever front they're on."

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) then turned to General Petraeus. Petraeus' job isn't to fight, or to plan, the entire war; as he said to Feingold, it's a question better directed to Admiral Fallon, the Central Command chief, not to mention President Bush, Defense Secretary Gates, or Director of National Intelligence McConnell.

Feingold called the unwillingness to "seriously comment about how this relates to the larger global fight against terrorism" a "classic example of myopia, the myopia of Iraq."

Finally, the question on everyone's mind. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) asked how the turn of Anbar Sunnis against al-Qaeda relates to national reconciliation -- what Amb. Crocker and President Bush have endlessly called "bottom-up" reconciliation. Of course, there aren't any Shiites in Anbar, so how does that reconciliation work?

Both Crocker and Gen. Petraeus answered the same way: reconciliation can be perceived by the Maliki government's willingness to pay for Anbar "volunteers" to join the Iraqi security forces. What that really means is that the Interior Ministry is paying the salaries of 27,000 Anbari Sunnis to police their province. But Crocker said that, at least, the financing shows that the "two entities" -- Anbar province and the Maliki government -- are "establishing working linkages." Petraeus added that in Baghdad -- not really the area at issue in the substance of the question, but still -- the "volunteers" in Sunni neighborhoods against al-Qaeda are going to be allowed by the Maliki government to no longer be "fixed in place" for operations. That means that the ministries of defense and interior will send the Sunnis newly in their ranks to areas outside their own neighborhoods.

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Way back in July, the House Judiciary Committee voted to find White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress for failing to respond to a committee subpoena relating to the U.S. attorney firings investigation.

Today, John Bresnahan over at the Politico reports that the Democratic leadership is unlikely to push for a full vote in the House until late September at the earliest. The reason, he reports, is that Democrats haven't yet "briefed lawmakers on what it would mean and how the controversy would play out, both legally and politically":

“I don’t think anything is going to happen on that for a while,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.). “When you decide to do that, you have to make your best case. You want everyone to understand what’s happening and why.”

Emanuel said Pelosi and other top Democrats have not begun those consultations yet — and he was unsure when they would.

Conyers said it was critical for Congress to enforce its subpoenas against executive branch officials, including senior White House aides.

“Otherwise, we just become a [social] club,” Conyers said, adding that he would be reviewing the issue with Pelosi soon.

Gen. Petraeus made much of the Marine Expeditionary Unit that he's sending home later this month. After an interjection by Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), the general clarified that the 2,000 Marines were schedule to come home anyway. The key, he said, is that he hasn't recommended that another unit relieve the Marines.


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