A Second Look
Yesterday, I slammed Hillary pretty hard for not getting tougher with either General Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker at the Armed Services hearing. Now that I have seen over nine minutes of video of her segment yesterday, I observe the following:
1. Hillary like Obama used approximately seven minutes on her opening;
2. She started off by diplomatically saying their reports were BS;
3. She pointed out on the sixth anniversary of 9/11 that the mastermind of that atrocity was still at large;
4. She threw Petraeus' confirmation hearing testimony about Anbar progress back in his face;
5. She said their charts only tell part of the story, and then pointed out facts that Petraeus wants to overlook.
She did not ask Petraeus a question until about seven minutes in, but she only asked him whether or not he still would be recommending a "stay the course" policy six months from now if nothing has changed in the interim, a hypothetical that Petraeus rightly ducked answering.
Look, I understand that presidential candidates will use these opportunities to give soundbites and avoid looking too confrontational, especially when you are trying to come across as a future commander in chief. Both Obama and Clinton did their part along these lines yesterday. In fact, by the account in today's Post by Dana Milbank, Obama's statement and approach yesterday were nothing more than appendages of his presidential campaign and statement on Iraq today. By comparison, Clinton's approach and delivery at least was focused on the matter at hand and wasn't simply a dry run for a stump speech today.
Clinton's goal was to challenge the claims of progress by this administration without calling either of these men liars. She did that in her usual deliberate manner, but without a sharp, point-by-point delivery in a shorter period of time that would have allowed her to ask meaningful questions about the lack of a policy going forward. This may have been by design, because 1) Others had already touched on these issues, albeit lightly, earlier in the day; and 2) She and others already know how they will vote on the supplemental, and the testimony makes very little difference to them, just as it makes no difference whatsoever to George W. Bush. In reality, as Senator Chris Dodd noted, the hearings are irrelevant because they focus on tactics at a time when the underlying strategy of this administration has been and continues to be a failure.
Such hearings do little to push forward a real debate in this country about Iraq, because they are structured as press conferences for the senators and representatives, instead of a back-and-forth discussion between advocates and critics of our current policies. Until we get a chance to see Petraeus, Crocker, McCain, Graham, Lieberman, Biden, Clinton, Obama, Dodd, Feingold, and outside experts sit around a large table and thrash out the validity of the assumptions behind the administration's policy and the Democratic alternatives without cable news rancor, the public will never have the debate about Iraq and a way forward that our military men and women deserve.