The next commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General David Petraeus, is on Capitol Hill today, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. As you might expect, the questions from senators have focused largely on President Bush's planned troop surge, and not on Petraeus's strategy for using those forces to improve the security situation.
Between political statements and posturing from committee members, General Petraeus demonstrated why he's the right man for the job. In his opening statement, Petraeus painted a realistic picture of conditions in Iraq, warning senators that "tough days" are ahead, while voicing his support for the troop increase, indicating that more forces on the ground can make a difference.
Petraeus even got in a little swipe at Ted Kennedy. When the senior Senator from Massachusetts asked why an additional 21,500 troops would make a difference. Petraeus said the important factor is how the troops are used, not their numbers. He reemphasized that the additional forces will be used to protect the civilian population of the Iraqi captial, rather than killing insurgents.
General Petraeus refused to say how long the troop surge might last, but he told Senator John McCain that "indicators" of success or failure would be evident by late summer. While the first wave of additional troops is now arriving in Iraq, Lieutenant General Petraeus said the last of the new brigades won't be in place until late May. If the Iraqis fail to meet their commitments under the revised security plan, Petraeus said he would consult with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on how to respond.
While most of the committee's Democratic members (and a few Republicans ) took potshots at the policy, only one senator, Connecticut's Joe Lieberman, asked Petraeus how Congressional resolutions opposing the troop surge would affect operations in Iraq. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina echoed Lieberman's query, but readers will note that there's no mention of the question in this AP dispatch.
And little wonder. The journalistic template for Petraeus's testimony--and the troop surge--has already been established. It won't work; too little, too late, there's no support for the policy, but hey, we're still behind the troops and don't you dare question our patriotism. Using that model, there's no room for success--or even discussions on chances for success. Just lots of stories that emphasize senatorial opposition to the plan.
During today's hearings, one senator described General Petraeus's new assignment as one of the most important operational commands in the U.S. military. That may be an understatement. I believe Lieutenant General Petraeus has been handed the toughest job in DoD, with minimal time to produce results. And making matters worse, most difficult challenge facing Petraeus may not be on the streets of Baghdad, but in the corridors of the United States Senate.