Gen. David Petraeus wants to wait another five months before deciding whether or not to bring any more troops home.
Telling Congress that progress in Iraq was “fragile and reversible,” the top American commander recommended Tuesday that consideration of any new withdrawals of American troops be delayed until the fall, making it likely that little would change before Election Day.
The commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, refused under persistent questioning from Senate Democrats to say under what conditions he would favor new troop reductions, adding that he would not take the matter up until 45 days after a current drawdown is complete in July. His recommendation would leave just under 140,000 American troops in Iraq well into the fall.
The hearings lacked the suspense of last September’s debate, when the focus was on measurable benchmarks and heightened expectations of speedy troop withdrawals.
But they thrust the war to the center of the presidential campaign, as General Petraeus faced questioning from the two Democrats and one Republican still vying for the White House. He told them that progress in Iraq had been “significant and uneven.”
The general’s tone was notably sober, and despite an intensified American military campaign over the past 15 months, he acknowledged: “We haven’t turned any corners. We haven’t seen any lights at the end of the tunnel.”
We all know that military predictions are inexact, but it does seem that Gen. Petraeus is throwing cold reality on the war-cheerleaders who say the surge has worked, and dropped the decision on whether or not the surge has worked right into the middle of the presidential campaign.
Some other interesting notes from the Senate testimony:
– Sen. Joe Biden got Ambassador Ryan Crocker to basically paraphrase the old W.C. Fields line: “On the whole, I’d rather be in Afghanistan.”
He asked Ryan Crocker, who used to be ambassador to Pakistan, whether it would be better for U.S. interests to go after Al Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border or Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Crocker, in an impossible political position — give the correct answer and humiliate the Bush administration; give the administration’s answer and look like a fool — dodged as much as he could. Then Biden forced him down. Crocker: “I would therefore pick Al Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.”
– Sen. John McCain needs a program to know who’s who in Iraq.
McCain: There are numerous threats to security in Iraq and the future of Iraq. Do you still view Al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?
Petraeus: It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was say 15 months ago.
McCain: Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shiites overall?
Petraeus: No, no sir.
For the record, the people identifying themselves as “Al Qaeda in Iraq” are Sunnis. You’d think that Sen. McCain would know that. Or should, especially if he’s planning on keeping us there for a hundred years.