In planning Iraq's future, US can't 'see beyond next summer,' ambassador says
Second round of testimony receives far less media coverage
The top US diplomat in Iraq tossed some cold water on expectations that an announced plan to end the US troop surge would hasten a complete extraction of the American military from what many see as a deepening civil war there.
"In terms of concrete things like force levels ... neither of us believe we can see beyond next summer," Ambassador Ryan Crocker said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appearing alongside Gen. David Petraeus, the top US military commander in Iraq.
Petraeus: 'I don't know' if strategy is keeping US safe
Testifying later in the day before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John Warner, a Republican whose recently emerged with criticism of President Bush's war policies, asked Petraeus if a continuation of the surge until Summer "is making America safer."
"Sir, I don't know, actually," Petraeus admitted. "What I have focused on and been riveted on is how to accomplish the mission of the multinational force Iraq. ... I have tried to focus on what i think a commander is supposed to do, which is to determine the best recommendations to achieve the objectives of the policy from which his mission is derived."
In their second day of Capitol Hill testimony, the two officials faced tough questions from Democratic and Republican senators who sought to nail down assessments of political progress stemming from the decreases in violence that have been cited by Bush administration officials as examples of the surge's success.
"It certainly will be well beyond the end of next summer before Iraq achieves the end state I've laid out. ... Clearly, we do not have a national level of political settlement," Crocker said, although he would not speculate how that would affect future troop levels.
Crocker and Petraeus stressed that the troop surge did not reach its full strength until June, and they argued that expectations of substantial progress at this point should be tempered with an acknowledgment that more time is needed. Senators countered with reports that the Iraqi government is failing to meet the very benchmarks that it laid out for itself.
Unlike their testimony before two House committees, Tuesday's hearing -- coming on the sixth anniversary of 9/11 -- did not receive nearly as much immediate attention. Where Monday saw roadblock coverage of the hearing on all three cable news networks, Petraeus and Crocker's testimony was carried live only on C-SPAN. The pair was set to appear before a separate hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee later Tuesday afternoon.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran who is among the most vocal Republicans questioning US war policies, noted "some very bright-line contradictions" between the assessments from Petraeus and Crocker and independent evaluations, such as a recently completed Government Accountability Office report.
"I have to ask this question: Where is this going?" Hagel said. "We've got too many disconnects. Are we going to dismiss the five reports I just cited."
Crocker acknowledged it was "beyond question" that "there is an enormous amount of dysfunctionality in Iraq," but he said conditions there had improved since 2006 when the country "almost completely unraveled."
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), another Vietnam veteran, warned that "we dare not repeat those mistakes" of continuing a war after officials realized success could not be achieved. He said it was unfair to continue to ask US troops to sacrifice their lives if our policy couldn't work, and he accused the witnesses of refusing to evaluate success by the same measures that were put forward when the surge began.
"Why are you moving the goal posts?" Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) asked the two witnesses.
Crocker stressed that security was necessary before progress could be achieved and stressed the any successes would be slow.
"Will it succeed? How fast will it succeed? In what form will it succeed? I don't know," he said.
The following video is from C-SPAN's broadcast of General Petraeus testimony on September 11, 2007
The following video is from C-SPAN's GENERAL PETRAEUS REPORT, broadcast on September 11, 2007
The following video is from C-SPAN's broadcast of General Petraeus' testimony on September 11, 2007