Time For Levin To Grow A Pair
Emboldened earlier in the week by their ability to seize the Iraq narrative during August from a Democratic leadership that went to sleep, the White House rolled out its “status quo, another Friedman unit” script for next week. They were fully expecting to ram it through the hearings and sell it, based on their claims that violence is down in Iraq. But then two things happened to screw up their plans, and the comatose Democratic leadership had their fingerprints on neither one of them.
First, outside experts discredited rather easily the administration’s claims about how well the surge was working in Iraq by pointing out that the statistics Petraeus was using to show a reduction in violence were cooked. How, for example can Petraeus accept a methodology that doesn't count Shiite-on-Shiite or Sunni-on-Sunni violence, car bombings, or killings from the front of the body? If the Pentagon is now going to tell us that bombings don't represent violence or terrorism, but rather crimes, then why are the 9/11 attacks considered terrorist attacks instead of crimes?
Second, against the wishes of both the Democratic and Republican leadership in both houses, a bipartisan moderate bloc of representatives and senators is emerging over the last several weeks to seize the debate away from their leaders and cobble together a way forward. Both of these events were only given more credence by the up tick in American fatalities in Iraq this week, with another seven US personnel being killed yesterday after eight were killed Tuesday and Wednesday.
Faced with a rejection of their “stay the course” script for next week, the White House hurriedly tried to put out an alternate message yesterday. Both the Times and the Post report that the new Petraeus message is that he might be willing to withdraw one brigade from Iraq early next year, 3,500 troops out of over 160,000, and perhaps more during the remainder of the year, but only if security allows. It’s a transparent attempt to stave off a major pushback next week, and it is totally meaningless, since under even the most optimistic assessment from Petraeus according to the Times, Bush would be leaving office with pre-surge troop levels still in Iraq, and would be passing the problem off to his successor. Plus, there is little if any talk about political requirements and diplomacy, nor is the White House talking about the kind of grand plan or strategy that McCain advisor Anthony Cordesman said was necessary. And it runs contrary to two-thirds of world opinion, which wants American troops out of Iraq within 12 months.
We face the prospect next week of seeing both the White House and the congressional leadership of both parties repudiated on Iraq by a moderate bloc that wants something they can call progress, so they can escape heat in 2008. Their "progress" will be wholly inadequate, but it is likely to be more than Reid or Pelosi would have gotten on their own, because 1) neither Reid nor Pelosi control their caucuses let alone their chambers; and 2) neither of them would know strategic thinking if it bit them in the ass.
But we also find out this morning that Petraeus now won't be presenting an actual report next week. ThinkProgress and the Washington Times note that Petraeus plans an opening statement and some charts and graphs of his discredited statistics, but that's it. This is consistent with the legislation passed by Congress and signed by Bush, which actually requires Bush to make a second report to Congress by September 15th. Carl Levin needs to find out immediately from Petraeus at the outset of the testimony if the president will be meeting the deadline for a report to Congress by the 15th. If there is no report, after being told for months to wait for the report, then Levin needs to:
1. Cut Petraeus off and demand to know why the testimony should continue;
2. Ask Petraeus why the White House isn't complying with what it committed to and what Congress expected;
3. Ask Petraeus why the White House isn't coming forward at this late date with a comprehensive plan as Cordesman recommended, (and Levin should look directly at McCain as he is asking this question);
4. Ask Petraeus why he approved statistical analyses that knowingly undercount Iraqi violence;
5. Tell Petraeus that there is no way Congress can be expected to shovel another $50 billion in supplemental funds to Iraq if the White House can't back it up with a comprehensive plan and strategy; and
6. If there is no report, tell General Petraeus that he and the president have misled Congress since the surge began, while Americans have died under false pretenses and while Osama Bin Laden gets to make new videos.
This is not a time for weak-kneed committee chairmen. If Levin cannot confront Petraeus next week, then he should go. It's that simple.
Update: I want to be clear on what I am suggesting the Democrats do next week, because this may be the only chance they get to revisit Petraeus’s appointment and tenure before 2009. I am suggesting that at least one Democrat on that committee go right at him, and challenge not only his current assessment and the political whitewashing behind it, but also the general himself. Given the composition of the committee with mostly red-state Democrats and the woeful Joe Lieberman, whomever makes the attack will have to withstand a withering rebuke from Lieberman and McCain, but a Democrat needs to throw it back in their faces next week and force them to answer the charges they throw at Democrats. Perhaps, just perhaps Jack Reed, Jim Webb, or even Evan Bayh can do this, as I hold out no hope at all that Claire McCaskill, Mark Pryor, or the Nelson Boys have the guts to take on Lieberman and McCain.
I frequently hear war supporters say they reject the GAO and other analyses because such reports don’t take into account what happens if we leave. Under that benchmark then, I think it is time to challenge war supporters and Petraeus on that same point.
General, if you and the cheerleaders are so worried about sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing spinning out of control if we leave, I submit to you that it has already happened right under your nose, as Baghdad has been largely cleansed of Sunnis since January except those living behind the walls you built. Are we to stay for another 9-10 years under your counterinsurgency model, at $3 billion a week, at a troop level we cannot sustain, just to prevent something that is already happening?
By the way general, in your confirmation hearing process, you specifically downplayed the possibility that American forces would be in Iraq in substantial numbers for nine or more years. But five months later after you got the job, you put it out there on Fox News that “everybody recognizes” that in fact a nine or ten-year commitment was to be expected. What exactly is the 9-10 year commitment you see for America, and at what cost to our military, and why should we shoulder it alone?
General, how can Congress and the American people have confidence in you when you claimed a 75% reduction in Iraqi violence based on deception and cherry-picked statistics? Then again, how can we have confidence in your administration when it was under your watch that millions if not billions of dollars of weapons and armaments went missing, and could have likely ended up in the hands of those killing our forces now?
General, what prospect for success is there when the current Iraqi prime minister has a poor relationship with you, stemming in large part from your alliances with Sunni militias without his advance knowledge?
These are basic questions that deserve a response, for the sake the country and the soldiers being asked to die for Iraq. If no Democratic senator can bring themselves to challenge Petraeus next week and force the administration and the pro-war cabal to be held to the same standard that war critics are held to, then this country is lost.
Democrats need to get over their fear of being called bad names by false patriots like Joe Lieberman and George W. Bush, and to publicly say the truth; George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have already lost the war in Iraq, it is up to the Democrats to still win the war in the region.