Starting at 12:30, it’s the mother of all anticlimaxes. We know already what he’s going to recommend — stay the course until next year, with withdrawal of one token brigade as early as December and then gradual drawdown of the remaining surge brigades next year as security circumstances allow. The GOP questioners will shower him with praise, the Democrats will make a point of thanking him for his service and leadership before calling him a liar, and then they’ll wrangle over statistics for the next few hours with occasional moments of political theater bubbling up sporadically. I’ll do my best to clip all of those for you. If you’re watching, sound off below, and if you see something worth posting, send us an e-mail at the tips address.
I wish I had time to digest the following links for you but there’s simply too much, so here you go —
reading skimming material as you watch. The top news this morning is the brutal ABC poll of Iraqis, which they conveniently held until this morning for added drama. The BBC’s version is easier to read but it’s worth scrolling through the first few pages at least of the ABC data. Bush’s ultimate way out here may be to ask Maliki to hold a popular referendum on the U.S. troop presence in Iraq; if, as expected, the people vote to send us home, he gets to withdraw with at least some superficial realization of his goal of Arab democracy. If they want their fight without a referee, so be it.
The ABC poll isn’t the only new one out today. Gallup has data too showing slight but steady upward shifts in perception over the last few months (after three months of downward shifts) that the surge is making things better but also increasing support for setting a timetable, which, ironically, the Democrats seem to have backed down on. 61% say they’re no more confident now than they were before the surge that we’re going to accomplish our goals. It’s worth flagging these numbers now because we’re bound to get another round of polls next week that’ll tell us how persuasive Petraeus is. Prediction: a slight bounce in war support but not much.
McClatchy has a different set of numbers measuring not popular opinion but security progress in Iraq. There is some improvement but it seems to be marginal everywhere except Anbar, which is expected to be the centerpiece of Petraeus’s presentation. The LA Times has a story out now about the possibility of using Anbar as a model for the rest of the country. Officers there think it’s a unique situation, particularly in its sectarian homogeneity vis-a-vis Baghdad and Diyala, but it’s being applied in other areas to greater and lesser extents. A sergeant stationed in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad sums it up for the Wash Times: “If [the insurgents] really, really wanted it really bad, they could take it back in a day. They could occupy it within hours, but it would take weeks to regain some of the terrain we have denied them.”
Finally, a word of recognition for the liberals who spoke up for Petraeus today in the face of MoveOn’s disgusting, predictably juvenile “Petraeus/Betray Us” knock: Joe Lieberman, who wants the Democrats to denounce it and who co-authored an op-ed today with McCain urging Americans to give Petraeus a fair shake, and Michael O’Hanlon, who, after being savaged by the left for his own op-ed in the Times a few months ago reporting progress from the surge, sticks a finger in their eye today in NRO.
Update: Mission accomplished, ABC — Skelton mentions the poll of Iraqis in his opening remarks after a laundry list of the missing WMDs, Bush’s speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln. He’s making the case now of how the mission has essentially failed but being careful to say if only we had Petraeus in charge three years ago we might not be where we are. Now he’s unloading on the Iraqis.
Update: Lantos calls the war a “fiasco” and tells Petraeus that no one can believe anything he says, not because of Petraeus’s credibility but because of Bush’s. “Strategically the escalation has failed,” he says, and of any progress to be reported he declares, “I don’t buy it.” Why attend the hearing then, Lantos? Now, five minutes later, he says the gradual drawdown plan is “nowhere near enough” and that Iraqis need to know the “free ride is over.”
Update: Duncan Hunter’s ripping on the Petraeus critics and mentions Lantos by name for impugning his testimony as the product of political operatives. He does a good job responding to Lantos’s point that Anbar is only 5% of the population, noting that it used to comprise 50% of the attacks. Now he’s analogizing the left’s opposition to the Iraq war with their opposition to the cold war. Heh. Hunter asks Skelton to stipulate that Petraeus’s and Crocker’s integrity should be stipulated to by the panel — and Skelton complies.
Update: Reid heads for the lifeboats:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed frustration Monday with a new print ad attacking Gen. David Petraeus that is being paid for by a liberal advocacy organization on the same day the general is providing testimony before Congress on the situation in Iraq.
When asked early this morning if this was the right message for his party to send, the Nevada Democrat curtly answered “No.”
In a separate conversation, a senior Democratic leadership aide called the ad an “unnecessary distraction” and said Democrats are prepared to focus on “Petraeus executing a mismanaged mission.”
Update: Ros-Lehtinen is mentioning the MoveOn ad, too. What a PR stain for the Democrats. Or is it? She mentions this passage in Politico from Friday. Good cop/bad cop:
[Anti-war] groups have no problem going after Petraeus, as evidenced by heavy criticism of him by Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (“It is clear that Americans cannot trust any assessments that come out of this White House, or Gen. Petraeus when it comes to the war in Iraq”) and the Center for American Progress, among others. But it is a tactic that Democratic lawmakers themselves want to avoid.
“No one wants to call [Petraeus] a liar on national TV,” noted one Democratic senator, who spoke on the condition on anonymity. “The expectation is that the outside groups will do this for us.”
She’s going on and on about jihad. Let’s get on with it.
Update: Petraeus was about to speak — and had a dead mike. Momentary pause.
Update: He’s back and says the surge is working, but not before emphasizing that he wrote his testimony himself, that it wasn’t vetted by anyone, etc. He mentions Anbar as the signature theater of progress and sees the trend spreading, and says now that he thinks will be able to draw down to pre-surge levels by next summer. We can achieve our objectives, he says, but it’ll be neither quick nor easy.
Update: He’s running through charts showing the drop in casualties, which is excellent but only gets us back to the levels as of March 2006 as far as I can tell. Still, it’s reassuring watching someone as obviously competent as Petraeus talking about progress in Iraq. Not a common occurrence the past four years with Bush as the front man.
Update: Petraeus cites the capture of Hezbollah bombmaker Ali Mussa Daqduq as evidence that Iran is trying to build a parallel organization in Iraq to challenge the seat. That ignites the first protest in the back of the room, which is indecipherable but doubtless has to do with neocons gunning for war with Tehran. The Independent wrote the seminal article about Sadrist/Hezbollah collusion last month. Read it now if you missed it before. Money quote:
Speaking in Tufa in Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, the head of the Mehdi Army, admitted to “formal links” with Hizbollah.
“We have formal links with Hizbollah, we do exchange ideas and discuss the situation facing Shiites in both countries,” he said. “It is natural that we would want to improve ourselves by learning from each other. We copy Hizbollah in the way they fight and their tactics, we teach each other and we are getting better through this.”
Mr Sadr said members of the Mehdi Army had travelled to Lebanon, and would continue to do so.
Update: He says it would be “premature” to talk about post-surge withdrawal recommendations given the fluidity of events on the ground. In particular, he’s emphasizing the extent of Iranian involvement in Iraq. That’s a surprise given the emphasis Bush has been placing on AQ’s presence as the casus belli.
Update: Petraeus’s testimony ends — and Code Pink starts screaming “no one believes you anymore!” They’re dragging them out of the room now. Medea Benjamin’s still there in the row behind; she’ll eventually stand up and get thrown out too. — And there she goes, screaming just as Crocker was about to speak.
Update: Crocker mentions Iran too as the cause of so much trouble in Iraq but I think the very opening of his remarks, about Iraqis being “traumatized” after decades of Saddam and now insurgency, is worth highlighting. Totten heard that from an Iraqi interpreter last month:
MJT: What is the most important thing about Iraq that the Americans don’t understand?
Hammer: Don’t just open the jail after 25 years. Let people out step by step. Iraqis need rehab. Give them instant direct freedom and they are going to go crazy. That’s what the U.S. did.
Update: The PDFs of Petraeus’s and Crocker’s statements are going around. Click to download Crocker’s testimony, Petraeus’s testimony, and the charts accompanying Petraeus’s presentation. I’m going to look for Iran references.
Update: The hearing’s
over recessed. They’ll both be on Fox News tonight at 9 for an interview with Brit Hume and then before the Senate bright and early tomorrow. Stand by for the Iran excerpts from their testimony.
Update: More MoveOn fallout: Waffles tells Reid to make room for him in the lifeboat.