That was horribly depressing testimony yesterday. Crocker and Petraeus might have tried to put a sunny spin on the matter, but at the the end of the day the only thing you conclude was that the US is fighting in the wrong place and doesn’t have the first clue how to get itself out of this mess.
When Ambassador Crocker was asked which Al Qaeda group he would consider most important to eliminate, the real Al Qaeda or the splinter group Al Qaeda in Iraq, he choose the real Al Qaeda in Pakistan:
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.
Crocker tried to make it seem as if we have struck a massive blow against Al Qaeda in Iraq and so we could now turn our attention to Pakistan/Afghanistan. Some war defenders may rush to use that hedging as support for the notion that even if Crocker admits that iraq is not the central front in the war against Al Qaeda that it once was. That, of course, is nonsense. Al Qaeda in Iraq did not exist until we invaded so it could not have been an important front in the fight against Al Qaeda until our own stupidity allowed Al Qaeda the opportunity to make it so. And if Crocker is right, if we have had significant enough success against Al Qaeda in Iraq that we are free to turn our attention to Pakistan, why, precisely, is there still so much violence in Iraq? It must be because of other factions, factions that have nothing to do with Al Qaeda in Iraq. But both Crocker and Patreaus said we cannot leave Iraq, so, by Crocker’s own words, Iraq is a colossal distraction from the real fight: Al Qaeda.
Crocker admitting that Iraq is preventing us form dealign with and defeating Al Qaeda is bad enough, but Petraeus and Crocker had even worse news In essence, they have no idea what victory would look like. When Asked by Senator Clinton what victory would look like, General Petraeus gave this rambling answer:
With respect to the conditions, Senator, what we have is a number of factors that we will consider by area as we look at where we can make recommendations for further reductions beyond the reduction of the surge forces that will be complete in July. These factors are fairly clear. There’s obviously an enemy situation factor, there’s a friendly situation factor with respect to Iraqi forces, local governance, even economic and political dynamics, all of which are considered as the factors in making recommendations on further reductions.
Having said that, I have to say that again it’s not a mathematical exercise. There’s not an equation in which you have co- efficients in front of each of these factors. It’s not as mechanical as that. At the end of the day, it really involves commanders sitting down, also with their Iraqi counterparts and leaders in a particular area, and assessing where it is that you can reduce your forces so you can, again, make a recommendation to make further reductions.
And that’s the process, again.
He cannot say what conditions would trigger a draw down of troops — apparently his field commanders would just one day magically know that everything was friendship and light and flowering ponies and they could all go home. Saying now what that magical land of happy-happy would look like is, apparently, impossible. Just trust in the Mighty Power of the Patraeus and He will come down from the mountain and present us with the Ten Dates For Withdrawal.
Crocker was just as bad. When asked by Senator Obama what constituted success, Crocker replied:
CROCKER: And that’s because, Senator, is a — I mean, I don’t like to sound like a broken record, but this is hard and this is complicated.
I think that when Iraq gets to the point that it can carry forward its further development without a major commitment of U.S. forces, with still a lot of problems out there but where they and we would have a fair certitude that, again, they can drive it forward themselves without significant danger of having the whole thing slip away from them again, then, clearly, our profile, our presence diminishes markedly.
But that’s not where we are now.
Again the double talk: we will leave when things are good but we cannot tell you right now how things will look when things look good. Success in Iraq is just like pornography: it is whatever Republicans are pointing to when they say “victory”.
But it gets even worse. When Senator Levin specifically asked Petraeus what the number of troops would be at the end of the year if everything goes according to his plan, Petraeus could not answer:
LEVIN: Now, next question, if all goes well — if all goes well, what would be the approximate number of our troops there at the end of the year?
Let’s assume conditions permitted things to move quickly. What, in your estimate, would be the approximate number of American troops there at the end of the year?
Can you give us a — just say if you can’t give us an estimate.
PETRAEUS: Sir, I can’t — I can’t give you an estimate on that.
LEVIN: All right. You’re not going to give us an estimate on that.
They don’t have a plan beyond hope. If they had areal plan, they would be trumpeting it and would take every opportunity to tell a disgusted and worried American public “here, here is what the end looks like and here is how we intend to get there.” Crocker and Petraeus bobbed and weaved like Ali in his prime every time someone tried to get them define success and victory. People who know where they are going aren’t afraid of questions about the destination. Clearly, all they have is the vague hope that if they hang around long enough, things will somehow sort themselves out.
By the end of the day Crocker and Petraeus had made it clear that the war in Iraq was not keeping the country safer, they don’t really have any idea what they are trying to accomplish in Iraq but we cannot leave no matter the cost until they have accomplished the accomplishment that they cnanot define.