UPDATED: Covering the Petraeus Testimony

By: E&P Staff

After weeks, even months, of anticipation, General David Petraeus has finally started testifying in Washington about the purported success of the surge. His main points all came out in advance, but how is the press covering the details and the reaction?

Meanwhile, in Iraq, nine American soldiers died on Monday ? all but one killed in vehicle accidents in and around Baghdad, the military said. A new poll by a group including ABC and the BBC found that only 25% of Iraqi think their lives have improved in the past six months, and 47% want a U.S. exit immediately.

We will present extracts from newspaper Web sites covering today’s testimony as they appear, below.

Mike Nizza, “The Lede” blog, The New York Times:

“Is This Thing On? No, 1:17 p.m. Eastern: The most anticipated testimony from a general in decades is being delayed by technical difficulties. His microphone just won?t work, and committee staffers have failed at quickly fixing the problem.

“After several minutes of awkward shuffling, a five-minute recess is declared….

“Petraeus?s Opening Statement, 1:30 p.m. Eastern: The general begins by saying that the following statement was his own, and had not been cleared by the White House….

“The general closed his statement, which lasted about 30 minutes, by buttering up lawmakers. Congress was thanked for its generous support, which has helped the military exceed all of its re-enlistment goals for U.S. troops serving in Iraq, according to Gen. Petraeus.”

Thomas Ricks, blogging at washingtonpost.com:

2:00 p.m. “My sense is that General Petraeus is being very careful today. He is not winging it–he is reading his written testimony line by line, rather than trying to summarize it.

“Likewise, his recommendations strike me as cautious. He is offering Congress a small cut in troops from the current level of over 160,000 and telling them to ask him again next March about the size of the “post-surge” force.

“Everyone knows that troop levels have to come down next year because there aren’t replacement troops available for the surge troops. So the question is, how far will levels come down–down to the pre-surge level of 130,000, or down to 100,000, or even less? And more importantly, what will their mission be?

“Petraeus is winding up his opening statement.. Next up is Amb. Crocker–who may be the wild card in the hearing today.”

2:09 p.m.: “I don’t know Crocker like I know Petraeus, so I am still mulling his comments. It feels to me like he put the best face on a pretty pessimistic assessment.”

2:24 p.m.: “Gen. Petraeus’s slide 14, shown here, strikes me as significant–but kind of screwy. It promises troop cuts but doesn’t really say when.

“I wonder if the Fallon vs. Petraeus debate was over whether to attach a date to getting down to 5 brigade combat teams.

“But the bottom line is, this is a roadmap for keeping U.S. forces in Iraq for many years to come–2010, 2011, maybe 2012 or later.”

2:31 p.m.: “The more I listen, the more I think today’s message from Petraeus and Crocker is that they think that keeping U.S. forces in Iraq for years to come isn’t a great idea, but is better than any other idea they see out there.

“Members of Congress tend to have very good antennae for that sort of unspoken but pretty clear implication. So, will they be willing to tackle this discussion? Or will they avoid getting in a fight with a top general?”

Mike Nizza, “The Lede,” The New York Times:

“The biggest outburst by protesters in the crowd came at the end of Gen. Petraeus?s statement, with several women wearing pink yelling slogans against him. Another protester was tossed during the microphone-induced recess*

Thomas Ricks, at www.washingtonpost.com:

“2:46 p.m.: Rep. Lantos asks if there is a responsible, intermediate course for withdrawal? He contrasts this ‘with what you are proposing,’ which he calls a ‘token’ troop withdrawal–that is, pulling out a Marine Expeditionary Unit and an Army brigade this coming winter. Petraeus responds that ‘what I recommended was a very substantial withdrawal,’ and says, politely but pointedly, ‘I have given you my best professional military advice on what can be done.'”

“3:41: I would say about half the reporters here left at the break. That’s probably mainly because deadlines are nearing–they can get some lunch, get back to their offices and then write their stories with one eye on C-Span showing the hearing. But it also may be that the hearing seems to lack a center. There is no sense that I can detect that this day is going to decide anything.”

Frank James at the Tribune’s Washington bureau “The Swamp” blog:

4:00 p.m. : “The National Security Network, a group of national-security experts critical of the surge from the progressive wing of U.S. politics has issued its own fact check of Gen. David Petraeus’s testimony so far.

“Their take on his testimony is that the general states as facts statistics whose sources are in doubt or disputed.

“The use of ‘fact-checking’ by a group that is a party to the debate resembles what happens in political campaigns and demonstrates how much the debate over the future U.S. course in Iraq has indeed become something of a political campaign in its own right.”
From Renee Schoof at the McClatchy Washington bureau site:

“Some members of Congress asked Crocker why Iraqi politicians had not resolved their conflicts while the additional security provided by U.S. forces gave them the opportunity. ‘It appears to this country lawyer that the leaders and parliament of Iraq have been sitting on their thumbs while the young men and women of America are doing their best to bring security,’ Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said. ‘Mr. Ambassador, why should we in Congress expect the next six months to be any different?’

“Crocker said the laws that Iraq must pass to create a government that could end violence were “extremely complex” and that Iraqis had not yet decided what final form their country would take.”

Michael Abramowitz, in a lead article at the Washinnton Post site, at 4:00 p.m.:

“The long-awaited testimony this afternoon of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan M. Crocker, once seen as a potential turning point in war policy, seemed more like an exercise of kicking the can down the road.

“Appearing before two House committees, Petraeus confirmed that 30,000 U.S. troops could be withdrawn from Iraq by the middle of next summer, but that was hardly unexpected: Officials have been forecasting or months that the so-called surge would have to come to an end no later than April 2008 or there would be unacceptable strains on the American military.

“But Petraeus left the larger questions–what will be the future size and mission of the American “footprint” in Iraq–unanswered. He offered hints that the reductions might continue beyond next summer, but said he would not be able to offer a definitive judgment until next March.”


Thomas Ricks:

“4:24: I just thought that Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) was going to get to the big question: General Petraeus, how long do you think will U.S. troops be fighting and dying in Iraq? ‘What I don’t hear or see is a target date.. . ,’ Taylor said.

“But Petraeus responded with a discussion of turning over responsibility for various provinces to Iraqi forces: ‘Congressman, in fact the transition has been going on.’ And there the discussion ended.”


Andrew Bacevich in a special “analysts” review at www.washingtonpost.com:

“5:55 p.m.: It is General Petraeus’s misfortune to have been designated strategist-in-chief for an unwinnable war. Besieged by a Democratic Congress heartily sick of Iraq and with his public standing in free fall, President Bush has effectively abdicated his own strategic responsibilities by insisting that he will take his cues from the senior general on the ground….

“The most important issue is the political one. Has the Iraqi government made meaningful progress toward reconciliation? The answer to that question is a resounding no.

“Yet the general’s testimony today suggests an unwillingness to confront the implications of that fact. He wants to let things play themselves out, deferring any big decisions. Petraeus seems to hope that with the passage of time, Iraqi political leaders will get their act together. But hope makes a poor basis for strategy.”

Thomas Ricks:

“6:10 p.m.: Today’s testimony shows that there some indication of military progress, but the big question is whether it is sustainable. To me, the point is that you can’t sustain military progress without significant political progress and without brokering a political agreement among the Iraqis.

“If anything comes through clearly from the testimony, it’s the fact that where you have a massive concentration of U.S. forces, and where you have cooperation with local militias, you can get progress on security. These findings are not surprising.

“There are many reasons why this limited military progress is not sustainable: U.S. forces can’t expand much further without breaking our military. Sunni militias are cooperating because they’re against al-Qaeda in Iraq, but they’re still against the government. Shiite militias are killing each other, and they stand ready to fight the Sunnis, but there’s no obvious deal to be cut with the Shiite militias as there has been with the Sunnis.”

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