Thursday, August 16, 2007

They have nerve, I gotta give 'em that...

Yesterday we learned that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will not be writing the September report that will bear their names, instead it will be written by White House staffers. Today, the Washington Post reports that they may not even present it.

On Wednesday, congressional aides revealed that the administration has floated the notion that Petraeus and Crocker might limit their appearances to private briefings, and instead, the progress report on the occupation of Iraq be delivered by the secretaries of state and defense.

The White hose did not deny that they proposed the idea, but seemed to back away from it once it was made known, claiming they would not “shield” Petraeus and Crocker from congressional testimony (which is required by the war funding legislation that Congress caved on in May and Bush signed). "The administration plans to follow the requirements of the legislation," responded National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe when questioned about the matter.

With the report due by Sept. 15, officials at the White House, in Congress and in Baghdad said that no decisions have been made on where, when or how Petraeus and Crocker will appear before Congress. Lawmakers from both parties are growing worried that the report -- far from clarifying the United States' future in Iraq -- will only harden the political battle lines around the war.

White House officials suggested to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week that Petraeus and Crocker would brief lawmakers in a closed session before the release of the report, congressional aides said. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would provide the only public testimony.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) told the White House that Bush's presentation plan was unacceptable. An aide to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said that "we are in talks with the administration and . . . Senator Levin wants an open hearing" with Petraeus.

The anxiety level is ratcheting up all around as the war grows ever more unpopular at home, and the countdown to the make-or-break report by Petraeus on the Bush AEI war strategy is on. (The report is due on 15 September.) As the deadline looms, the calls for a drawdown grow louder and more sustained.

"Americans deserve an even-handed assessment of conditions in Iraq. Sadly, we will only receive a snapshot from the same people who told us the mission was accomplished and the insurgency was in its last throes," warned House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.).

"That's all the more reason why they would need to testify," a senior Foreign Relations Committee aide said of Petraeus and Crocker. "We would want them to say whether they stand by all the information in the report." He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not cleared to speak to reporters.

Although the legislation as written says that Crocker and Petraeus "will be made available to testify in open and closed sessions before the relevant committees of the Congress" before the report is delivered, it also plainly sets forth that the president "will prepare the report and submit the report to Congress" in consult with the secretaries of state and defense, and with the ambassador and commanding General.

That, however, is not how it has been peddled to the public. For weeks, Bush has pleaded that we have to “wait for the report by General Petraeus”You couldn’t watch the news in the last few weeks without witnessing an impassioned appeal that we please, wait for Godot Petraeus. Over and over again, the president has referred directly to the General as the one who will be making the report, and implored Congress (and the American people) to please, pretty please, withhold judgment until then.

Congressional Republicans, who strongly desire that their political careers continue beyond the Bush administration have implied that their support is contingent upon a credible assessment and presentation by Petraeus. They are basing continued support not only on military progress, but political and social progress as well, hinting that they need to see that the Maliki government is taking steps to end sectarian conflict and achieve some religious and ethnic reconciliation. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), former chair and current ranking Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Carl Levin, Current Chairman, left yesterday to go to Iraq to make their own assessment in advance of the September report.

Petraues told reporters yesterday that he is preparing for the impending trip to Washington and assessing troop levels. "We know that the surge has to come to an end," Petraeus said, according to the Associated Press. "I think everyone understands that, by about a year or so from now, we've got to be a good bit smaller than we are right now. The question is how do you do that . . . so that you can retain the gains we have fought so hard to achieve and so you can keep going."

The Army is simply running out of soldiers, recruiting and retention are both lagging, and short of a draft, it simply can not be sustained.

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