Gen. David Petraeus warned against a quick withdrawal from Iraq as he began several days of congressional hearings yesterday. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat, accused Petraeus of “cherry-picking statistics” to quiet calls for faster troop reductions, but other House Democrats said the Bush administration’s strategy to send a surge of extra soldiers had improved security.
Petraeus said a small number of soldiers could be brought home in the coming months, with U.S. forces being reduced to their pre-surge numbers by late next summer. “It is possible to achieve our objectives in Iraq over time,” Petraeus said, “although doing so will be neither quick nor easy.”
What a “disgrace,” said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. Not Petraeus—his “was predicable,” as was that of the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker. But the softball questions lobbed at the pair by House Democrats “were by and large weak-kneed, even by House standards.”
Antiwar are legislators are “fearful that criticism of Petraeus would be seen as criticism of the troops,” said Dana Milbank in a Washington Post blog. The report from Petraeus—the top military commander in Iraq—was supposed to be a “turning point” in the war. Instead, the “mild general” basked in “abundant love,” and only a handful of demonstrators in the cheap seats complained.
And with good reason, at times, said The New York Times in an editorial (free registration required). Reducing troop strength to where it was last year hardly qualifies as the beginning of a withdrawal. And his claim that “killings and deaths” was equally sketchy. “Recent independent studies are much more skeptical about the decrease in violence.”
“Welcome to Washington, Gen. Petraeus,” said Rich Lowry in National Review Online. “You had better get used to being called a liar.” Though most Democrats didn’t have the courage to do so directly or openly, the party faithful launched an all-out offensive “against his credibility.”
The most disgraceful accusation came from the partisan hit-men at MoveOn.org, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. The activist group took out a newspaper ad accusing Gen. Petraeus of betraying the American people by having the temerity to say that our troops have done a good job of quelling terrorist violence in Iraq since the surge began earlier this year. So far, only two Democrats have repudiated the ad. When the general goes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, Democratic leaders—including Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Barack Obama, John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, and Jim Webb—will have an opportunity to apologize. They should take it.
Petraeus’ testimony indeed marked a turning point, said Michael Gordon in The New York Times (free registration required), just not the one Democrats wanted. Antiwar lawmakers were hoping for a faster withdrawal, but the general said will be needed for combat much longer than Democrats wanted. The change will be in their mission—American soldiers will have to stick around not to fight insurgents, but to protect ordinary Iraqis.
What all this means, said Paul Richter in the Los Angeles Times (free registration), is that Bush’s new policy is to leave the Iraq mess to the next administration.