Subscribe Twitter

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Support General Petraeus!

Great ad by Freedom's Watch!

From Politico
Now on deck: Petraeus and Crocker

With violence on the rise and troop levels higher than they were when the Democrats took control of Congress last January, Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker return to Capitol Hill this week to brief lawmakers on Iraq.

Petraeus and Crocker appear before the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees Tuesday and the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees Wednesday.

While much of the focus will be on the presidential candidates — Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) serve on Armed Services, while Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) serves on Foreign Relations — there are other aspects of the hearings worth watching:

How will the parties spin the issues?

How will Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) use his first big public stage as the new Foreign Affairs chairman?

What have House leaders learned from the last round of Petraeus-Crocker hearings?

And what will CodePink and MoveOn do this time around?

Here's how it's all shaping up:

1. The strategy and the spin.

Lawmakers don't have a lot of surprises in store for this week's testimony. In their previews late last week, Republicans focused yet again on the signs of progress — increased military security and modest political reconciliation — while the Democrats, just as predictably, pointed to the challenges that remain: the recent flare-up in violence, a series of political benchmarks the Iraqi government has failed to meet and the overall costs of the war.

This latter point plays into a theme Democrats have been pushing all year: The war has had a net drag on the economy. So expect hear specific questions about those costs as the Democrats seek to highlight the economic impact of the war.

"Our troops, our military units in Iraq, are paying about $3.25 a gallon of gas, approximately what we pay in the U.S.,"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last week, "while Iraqis are paying $1.36 a gallon for gas at the pump. This is a raw deal for America's taxpayers, and it is really hard to explain."

In addition to the many cost arguments against the war, Democrats will continue to argue that the prolonged engagement in Iraq has severely depleted the U.S. military's reach in other parts of the world.

"I have two thoughts that keep me awake at night," House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) said last week. "The first is the lack of readiness of our United States ground forces. It is apparent that the stretch and strain is like never before. The second is Afghanistan."

And finally, Democrats will argue that the Pentagon, the White House and congressional Republicans have repeatedly changed the definition for success to justify more requests for troops, money and equipment.

Republicans will make a moving-the-goalposts argument of their own this week. GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate are expected to ask questions of Crocker and Petraeus that will highlight benchmarks the Iraqi government and military have met in order to counter that well-established talking point that the parliament remains stalled.

A fact sheet distributed last week by Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee includes an article by Fred Kagan, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, that says the Iraqis have accomplished 12 of the 18 benchmarks set up for them by the U.S. government. Skelton said last week that that just three of the 18 benchmarks have been met.

In a comment last week, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) also pointed to the 20,000 troops who have been rotated out of Iraq as part of the initial drawdown from last summer's troop surge. "An irresponsible withdrawal would lead to chaos and perhaps genocide," Boehner said. "We need to listen to Amb. Crocker and General Petraeus' testimony and base our actions on the facts, not a commitment to retreat that is based on ideology rather than reality."

2. Chairman Berman's debut.

Wednesday's hearing with Petraeus and Crocker will be Berman's first major test as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Berman, first elected to Congress in 1982, recently took over the panel following the death of Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.).

The California Democrat has kept his own counsel on the upcoming hearing, declining media interviews until afterward. Berman, who is a strong supporter of Israel, voted for the first Gulf War back in 1990, and he strongly backed President Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Berman also voted in 2006 against a resolution calling for Bush to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from the conflict.
But his position on Iraq began to change in 2007 following the Democratic takeover of the House. Berman said he was "wrong" to believe that Saddam Hussein's regime had been trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and he opposed Bush's "surge" in U.S. troops sent to Iraq.

Berman later introduced legislation requiring a "redeployment" of American forces if the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki failed to meet a series of political, economic and security benchmarks. By last summer, Berman, one of the last House Democrats to back the war, was voting for hard withdrawal dates.

Berman signaled last week that he remains concerned about Iran;s influence in Iraq and in the larger Middle East region. During a press conference with Pelosi Thursday, Berman called Iran "the most dangerous state" in the region and said he wants to question Petraeus and Crocker about that topic and about the status of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.

Berman joined Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other senior Democrats in both chambers in signing onto a letter sent to Bush on Friday offering a four-point plan to end the Iraq War, rebuild the U.S. military and boost the security of Israel and other American allies in the region.

3. Learning from the last hearings.

The House is doing something different than it did the last time Petraeus and Crocker paid a visit -- separate hearings for the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

In 2007, the two committees held a joint session to question Petraeus and Crocker, which proved difficult for Skelton and Lantos to manage. With more than 100 lawmakers from both panels in attendance, each with only with five minutes to question two men, it was easy for Petraeus and Crocker to weather the storm.

Republicans on the two panels basically filibustered the Democrats by offering nothing but praise for Petraeus. Democrats found themselves on the defensive thanks to a hugely controversial newspaper ad by, which appeared just before the hearing. The anti-war group labeled Petraeus as "General Betray Us," and Democratic lawmakers found themselves forced to repudiate the ad while questioning the four-star general.

On the Senate side, the Petraeus-Crocker hearings will provide a high-profile opportunity for presidential hopefuls to stand out. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, is the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, which will allow him to voice his strong support for Bush's policy in Iraq. Clinton also serves on Armed Services, which will give her some face time with Petraeus and Crocker in front of TV cameras Tuesday morning.

Obama is one of the junior members of the Foreign Relations Committee, meaning he will also get to question the two men. In what may be an attempt to get on TV a little earlier in the day than his junior status might otherwise allow, Obama is scheduled to chair a Foreign Relations hearing on Tuesday morning to review several nominations.

4. Coming from the left.

The Win Without War Coalition -- a group that includes, the NAACP, True Majority and other progressive organizations -- will mark the hearings by circulating a letter directed at Rep Jack Murtha (D-Penn.), the chairman of the Defense appropriations subcommittee.

The groups argue in the letter that the next supplemental funding bill for Iraq should include funds "only for the safe and timely redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq."

"As part of a responsible redeployment, we support funding for a diplomatic offensive as suggested by the Iraq Study Group," the coalition says "Greater resources and resolve for diplomacy to the Iraq War are needed for a comprehensive solution."

The petition also calls on Congress to deny funding for any long-term agreement struck by the Bush administration and the Iraqi government "unless the agreement is approved by Congress and the Iraqi parliament."

CODEPINK is likely to take a more visible role in this week's hearings. "There will be folks trying to do their civic duty and listen from the public seats and then there are groups that will be out front of the building and most likely many in the hall," said spokeswoman Dana Balicki. "But if I told you what we had planned I might kill the element of surprise."