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Towards the end of this morning's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) elicited the plainest assessment yet of the day from Gen. Petraeus.
Given the complexity of the situation in Iraq, Bayh wanted to know, "isn't it true that a fair amount of humility is in order in rendering judgments about the way forward in Iraq, that no one can speak with great confidence about what is likely to occur?"
Petraeus seemed to grow a bit irritated at the insinuation that he'd been painting an overly rosy picture. "It's why I've repeatedly noted that we haven't turned any corners, we haven't seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle has been pushed to the back of the refrigerator. And the progress, while real, is fragile and is reversible," he replied.
Later, Petraeus again refused to venture any guess about when there might be further drawdowns of troops from Iraq after July.
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) took her time today to begin with a statement emphasizing the toll the war is taking on the U.S. armed forces, a cost, she said, that ought to be weighed against the cost of staying in Iraq indefinitely. "It's time to begin the orderly process of removing our troops."
Here's video of that:
Clinton began by focusing her questioning on the coming long-term security agreement between Iraq and the U.S. Earlier in the hearing, Ambassador Ryan Crocker had been at pains to stress that "the agreement will not establish permanent bases in Iraq" and might actually prohibit them (whatever that is worth), and that the "agreement will not specify troop levels" or "tie the hands of the next administration." But the agreement would not go to Congress, he said.
Clinton, who's been pushing legislation that would force the administration to submit the agreement to the Senate, as is required of formal treaties, said that "seems odd to Americans," for the administration to cut such a deal without Congressional consent -- at the same time that the Iraqis might submit the agreement to its parliament.
Clinton also wanted to know what conditions might possibly have existed that would have caused Petraeus to not extend the current strategy. Petraeus answered by ticking off the factors involved in deciding, but added that "it's not a mathematical exercise."
Here are Clinton's questions:
Update: Transcript of Sen. Clinton's exchange with Petraeus and Crocker:
Even more than Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) found it impossible to suppress his admiration for Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Petraeus deserves that fifth star, Graham said, and Crocker (who has devoted his career to public service in the Middle East) should go someplace not horrible (presumably far away from the Middle East):
Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker have given an overall positive review of U.S. progress in Iraq today, but both have laden those statements with clear caveats. When asked about political reconciliation in Iraq, Crocker has tended to prefer characterizing it as "moving in the right direction."
But Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) thinks that all too much emphasis has been put on the caveats. Clearly criticizing the questioning by Democrats today, Lieberman said that "there's a kind of hear no progress in Iraq, see no progress in Iraq, and most of all, speak of no progress in Iraq."
Lieberman, at least, sees no harm in overstating the progress in Iraq: "The Iraqi political leadership has achieved a lot more political reconciliation and progress since September than the American political leadership has."
Finally, he seemed to indicate that if only Democrats would accept the clear success of the surge, we "can move to more success so we can bring more of our troops home."
Thereafter, Lieberman went into a kind of reprise of his questioning last September, wanting to know about Iran's activity in Iraq.
Last time Gen. David Petraeus went up to Capitol Hill to give his big update, he wasn't 100% ready for prime time. That was most evident when Sen. John Warner (R-VA) asked if success in the Iraq war will make America safer. His response was a blunt "I don't know."
Today, Warner gave Petraeus the opportunity for a second bite of the apple. "Is all this sacrifice bringing about a more secure America?" Warner asked. And this time, Petraeus was ready -- with a mind-numbing battery of talking points, from which he was apparently reading:
Finally, Warner had to interrupt Petraeus, saying "my time on the clock is moving pretty quickly. It was a fairly simple question: Does that translate into a greater security for those of us at home?" He wanted an answer "just in simple language."
Finally, Petraeus came back with an assurance that "I do believe it is worth it."
Gen. David Petraeus' opening statement was no surprise either, with the general providing a battery of slides showing that U.S. forces have made great strides in curbing violence, building up the Iraqi forces, etc. -- but adding the necessary caveat that "innumerable challenges remain."
Towards the end, Petraeus said that starting in July, when the troop level will return to its pre-surge level, he would begin a "45 day period of consolidation and evaluation." After that period, he'd make further recommendations "as conditions permit." That arrangement does not allow a "set withdrawal timetable," he said, but the process would continue with recommendations (more of the same or draw down troops) made every 45 days.
Update: Here's how Petraeus put it:
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.
Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain's (R-AZ) opening statement was no surprise (except for a brief interruption by protestors in the audience).
Because the U.S. did not "choose to retreat," we now have a successful strategy in Iraq, the surge. And although "much more needs to be done... today it is possible to talk with real hope and optimism about the future of Iraq.... Success is within reach."
If we pull out, he said, Iraq might descend into genocide and become a haven for terrorists and even "draw us into a far more costly war" as a result. "Congress must not choose to lose in Iraq," he concluded, we "should choose instead to succeed."
Since 1994 the FBI has maintained a surveillance link (the Digital Collection System) between 40 of its offices, Quantico, and networks belonging to major telecommunications companies. Three Democratic lawmakers are concerned about the scope of this surveillance and have demanded more information about "transactional data" captured in these networks without court warrants. (Washington Post)
Lawmakers also have concerns about the Department of Homeland Security's domestic surveillance program. Known as the National Applications Office, the DHS' satellite program provides government officials with spy satellite imagery (sub. req.) and has no legal safeguards in place to prevent domestic spying. (Wall Street Journal)
Key legal opinions and documents related to the Department of Justice's torture memos of 2002 and 2003 and warrantless surveillance program remain under lock and key at the DOJ. Though lawmakers have requested the documents for years - and Attorney General Mukasey promised that "there isn't going to be any stonewalling" over Congressional requests for documents - the DOJ seems to be too busy to fill the requests. DOJ spokesman Peter Carr noted that congresisonal inquiries take "an enormous amount of department time and resources." (Washington Post)