"People hearing without listening"
David Corn is depressed at the inability or incapacity of Congressional Democrats to discredit the Surge.
The committee Democrats missed an opportunity to confront vigorously the front men for Bush's war in Iraq. It was not as if they hoisted a white flag. They did cite facts and figures that undermine the overall thrust of Petraeus' and Crocker's presentations. They raised pointed criticisms. They griped about the costs of the war. But it did not add up to much of an assault on Bush's policies. Given that congressional opposition to the war has lost much steam in the past year, perhaps this was to be expected. After all, Democrats in Congress appear to have given up on passing any legislation that would alter U.S. policies in Iraq. They know the public agrees with them on the war. (Warner noted that up to 80 percent of Americans don't believe the war was worth it.) But the Democrats have been stymied by a president who refuses to pull back in Iraq.
With Petraeus and Crocker spending two high-profile days on Capitol Hill to appear before four committees, the Democrats have a chance to undercut the White House story—which has gained traction within the media (if not within the public)—that the surge has been a success. In the opening round, they did not do much to inconvenience Petraeus and Crocker. It was not an entirely triumphant appearance for the pair, but it was good enough for anyone who favors a continuation of the current course in Iraq, and that includes their boss in the White House.
Corn thinks the "big news" in Petraeus testimony is that there isn't going to be a definite drawdown to pre-Surge levels any time soon. He may wish to consider another candidate for the headline. Admiral Fallon left CENTCOM amid rumor that he and Petraeus had clashed over the subject of how to respond to Iran. A recent spate of articles quoting Petraeus shifting the focus of operations to Iranian and Iranian backed groups suggests that the real context of the Surge and what follows is no longer driven by events in Iraq, but in its Islamic neighbor. That change in emphasis the "real news". Petraeus said in his testimony to Congress:
Though a Sadr standdown order resolved the situation to a degree, the flare-up also highlighted the destructive role Iran has played in funding, training, arming, and directing the so-called Special Groups and generated renewed concern about Iran in the minds of many Iraqi leaders. Unchecked, the Special Groups pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.
In his testimony, Petraeus argued that a framework for the nonviolent resolution of ethnic differences now existed and would eventually succeed unless it was derailed. "Ethno-sectarian competition in many areas is now taking place more through debate and less through violence. In fact, the recent escalation of violence in Baghdad and southern Iraq was dealt with temporarily, at least, by most parties acknowledging that the rational way ahead is political dialogue rather than street fighting." Though many challenges remained the train was on track to reach the station unless someone dynamited it. The two parties who aim to do the dynamiting are al-Qaeda and Iran. Regarding Iran, Petraeus said:
We have also focused on the Special Groups. These elements are funded, trained, armed, and directed by Irans Qods Force, with help from Lebanese Hezbollah. It was these groups that launched Iranian rockets and mortar rounds at Iraqs seat of government two weeks ago, causing loss of innocent life and fear in the capital, and requiring Iraqi and Coalition actions in response. Iraqi and Coalition leaders have repeatedly noted their desire that Iran live up to promises made by President Ahmedinajad and other senior Iranian leaders to stop their support for the Special Groups. However, nefarious activities by the Qods Force have continued, and Iraqi leaders now clearly recognize the threat they pose to Iraq. We should all watch Iranian actions closely in the weeks and months ahead, as they will show the kind of relationship Iran wishes to have with its neighbor and the character of future Iranian involvement in Iraq.
This statement must have hung in the air in Congress like a cloud of undissipated cigarette smoke, at least over whoever was listening, because it raised the question of 'what happens if Iran doesn't stop its campaign of subversion in Iraq?' What then? Petraeus provides no answer except to suggest that the key lies in strengthening Iraq against Iranian encroachments.
It's hard to say what lies ahead. My guess is that Petraeus himself doesn't know how the confrontation with Iran will play out. And that is the fascination with watching events unfold between Maliki and Sadr: it is freighted with information about how all sides (the Iraqi government, Iran and the Coalition) are going to deal with this conflict. Interestingly enough, Petraeus has explicitly mentioned the role of the "Lebanese Hezbollah" in training Sadr's men. This suggests that Petraeus regards the problem in theater-wide or regional terms, not simply as a problem that is confined to Iraq.
Corn seems to think that the proper role of the Democratic Congressmen was to discredit or attack the Surge. I would have thought their first duty was to listen to Petraeus and think about America's strategic choices in the region. But then it's 2008 and we all know what that year signifies.
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