Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Testimonial Vindication

Today's Capitol Hill testimony by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker provided little new in the way of clarifying the tenets of prolonged occupation of Iraq, but plenty of room for grandstanding on both sides of the aisle. Republicans--when they could keep their enemies straight--were quick to latch onto the slightest indication of progress while Democrats battled to see who could get the dodgiest answers to loaded questions.

Everyone dutifully filled their respective roles, including Petraeus and Crocker demonstrating the long-honored tradition of using a three-minute answer to say precisely nothing.

What the hearings did make clear is that much of what opponents of the war, including myself, have held up as evidence is slowly working its way into the mouths of allies of Bush's war policy.

What, exactly, is 'victory?' It's one thing to say that the American people won't stand for defeat or that defeat isn't an option, but to do so implies that there's a tangible definition of 'victory.' Part of agreeing upon a common language is that the words that constitute it are paired with clear definitions. To achieve victory, one must have a clear definition, and we still haven't gotten that from the administration, Petraeus, or John McCain and his toadies Lindsey Graham and Joe Liebermann.

Nearly nothing that could masquerade as victory in any acceptable sense has been accomplished. Few of the so-called 'benchmarks' have been met. The Iraqi security forces clearly demonstrated last week that they are not able to function independent of US support. The Iraqis are far from achieving anything close to financial independence, despite being located atop pools of natural cash. Clearly, there is no single condition that is on the verge of being met which could conceivably serve as a signal of victory in the pure sense of the word, which for now serves as a tool of those bereft of any substantive factual devices to substitute for the rhetorical.

Though the argument is mysteriously absent from most Iraq discussions, supporters of the war occasionally remember to tie the war in the specific to the broader War on Terror. Besides continued conflagration of al Qaeda/Iran threat the war is held up as one step to making America safer.

But when questioned by Senator Warner of Virginia (R) on such a seemingly central proposition to continued occupation, Petraeus was non-committal at best.

WARNER: It was a fairly simple question: does that translate into a greater security for those of us at home? … Can you now just tell us in simple language tell us yes it is worth it, and it is making us safer here at home?

PETRAEUS: Senator, I do believe it is worth it, otherwise I would have not accepted. … I took on the task of, the privilege of command of MNF-Iraq because I do believe that it is worth, and I do believe the interests there are of enormous importance, again, to our country, not just to the people of Iraq and the people of that region and the world.


If lessening al Qaeda's influence in Iraq is what is making America safer, not allowing them the vacuum to fill in the first place would be preferable, no? Basically, when asked if the war made the country safer, the General finally settles on a hesitant answer of 'yes, because we've lessened the threat that the war itself created.' Stultifying logic.

Another significant point of contention by those who oppose the war is that the nexus of terror lies not in Iraq but at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today's testimony finally elicited agreement on that point from Amb. Crocker.

SEN. BIDEN: Mr. Ambassador, is Al Qaeda a greater threat to US interests in Iraq, or in the Afghan-Pakistan border region?

AMB. CROCKER: Mr. Chairman, Al Qaeda is a strategic threat to the United States wherever it is, in my view–

SEN. BIDEN: Where is most of it? If you could take it out? You had a choice: Lord almighty came down and sat in the middle of the table there and said ‘Mr. Ambassador you can eliminate every Al Qaeda source in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or every Al Qaeda personnel in Iraq,’ which would you pick?

AMB. CROCKER: Well given the progress that has been made again Al Qaeda in Iraq, the significant decrease in its capabilities, the fact that it is solidly on the defensive, and not in a position of–

SEN. BIDEN: Which would you pick, Mr. Ambassador?

AMB. CROCKER: I would therefore pick Al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.

SEN BIDEN: That would be a smart choice.


Biden clearly pushed him into the corner with a loaded question, but the result is still telling. Crocker again bases his response on a lowering of the AQI threat, which didn't exist prior to the war. Given that was his only qualifier to his answer, it follows logically that had the AQI threat not been created by the invasion of Iraq, there would be no question in his mind as to where the real threat lied.

Opponents of the war are often painted as anti-security, which would be a very curious position to take were it true, but such accusations belie the central point. No one disputes that terror exists. No one disputes that America has many enemies. What is in dispute, however, is where in 2003 and still today that threat is most centralized. And it's not Iraq.

Finally, what is becoming increasingly clear is a gravitation toward painting Iran as the central enemy. As has been said before, trying to tie Iran to one side or the other is erroneous, as they have ties to all Shi'a groups in Iraq, not just the Mahdi Army. Ambassador Crocker admitted as much today.

SEN. REED: Mr. Ambassador, is the Mahdi Army…the only Shi’a organization that is receiving assistance, cooperation, has significant contacts on a routine basis with the Iranians?

AMB. CROCKER: I don’t think so, Senator.

SEN. REED: Who else might be having that kind of contact? If not military training, then a dialogue, money moving back and forth for other reasons?

AMB. CROCKER: Let me — those are two different aspects and I’ll address them separately. There are other militia groups down in Basra, a militia organization called Thar Allah, the Vengeance of God, whose leader, incidentally, is now in detention. They almost certainly get support from Iran, as does something called Iraqi Hezbollah. That does not necessarily imply a connection to Lebanese Hezbollah, but again, an extremist militia. Iran has the — again the tactic, as we’ve seen in Lebanon, of supporting a number of different–

SEN. REED: Would that include the ISCI element, the Badr Brigade?

AMB. CROCKER: I’d put that in the second category. Iran has a dialogue with, again –

SEN. REED: Everyone in the Shi’a community.

AMB. CROCKER: — everyone. That’s right. And –

SEN. REED: And it’s a mutual dialogue.

AMB. CROCKER: And not just the Shi’a community. What has happened with the Supreme Council and Badr is that they’ve basically gotten out of the overt militia business. It’s now the Badr organization. And many of its elements did integrate with the Iraqi security forces.


What's amusing is that without trying he gave his opponents the gem that claiming the name 'Hezbollah' "does not necessarily imply a connection to Lebanese Hezbollah." That the same is true of a relationship between AQI and bin Laden's al Qaeda should come as no shock.

More onerous, though, is Crocker's claim that the Badr organization has "gotten out of the overt militia business." This was achieved in part by the absorption of 10,000 of its members into the ISF.

Grandstanding aside, the testimony today illustrates an ever-so-slight movement toward vindication of many of the tenets of the war opposition.

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