Gen. David Petraeus told Congress on Tuesday that the U.S. should delay any further troop withdrawals in Iraq until the fall, saying that progress from last year’s surge was “fragile and reversible.” The top American commander declined, under questioning by Senate Democrats, to say what conditions would permit cutting U.S. troop strength below 140,000, the level targeted for a drawdown scheduled to be completed in July. “We haven’t turned any corners,” Petraeus said. “We haven’t seen any lights at the end of the tunnel.” (The New York Times, free registration)
What the commentators said
At least Democrats had to show Petraeus more respect when he made his first report to Congress in September, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, “no doubt because the surge is showing results even Democrats can no longer deny.” Instead, they just “ignored” recent gains by insisting, as Hillary Clinton did, that it was time to start pulling out. It was jarring to see the “contrast” between the “seriousness” of Petraeus, and the politically motivated posturing by the war’s critics.
Who’s in denial, here? said Maureen Dowd in The New York Times (free registration). Petraeus and the other member of the “Surge Twins,” Ambassador Ryan Crocker, “arrived on the heels of the Maliki debacle in Basra, which made it stunningly clear—after a cease-fire was brokered in Iran—that we’re spending $3 trillion as our own economy goes off a cliff so that Iran can have a dysfunctional little friend.”
“What hasn't much changed is the partisan debate over Iraq,” said The Washington Post in an editorial (free registration). Both sides remain “resistant even to established facts,” and “neither party wants to hear” the “sobering but firm bottom line” spelled out by Petraeus and Crocker. Making a commitment to help the Iraqi government achieve stability is “justified,” but “success will require a prolonged commitment, and even then it will not be guaranteed.”