On the Record

Q&A on Testimony by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker

Earlier this year, President Bush implemented his “surge” strategy in Iraq, greatly increasing the number of American troops on the ground. Phil Gordon examines the impact of that policy and questions reports of its success.

“For all of the talk of progress and success, I think there are great grounds for skepticism. First of all, we have heard so often reports of success in the past that I think the administration’s credibility on this issue is in question. For four years, we have been hearing about turning points and new strategies and progress. And so one has to listen with a grain of salt when the administration comes forward again with a new strategy and signs of progress.

“General Petraeus was convincing on the issue of the added troop level bringing more security, at least in a temporary sense. But I think two things: One, we have to put that in the context of other reports we’ve been hearing. The General Accounting Office came forward and General Jones and police Chief Ramsey came forward with another report-both much more skeptical that we heard from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.

“There’s a range of views and a lot of complicated data out there and I think given the Administration’s track record we owe it to ourselves to survey all of that before making up our mind about whether we’re convinced.

“But far more important than that, I think was the gap between the testimony in the security situation from General Petraeus and the testimony in the political situation from Ambassador Crocker. General Petraeus was convincing that added troops have brought down security mostly in Iraq. But the key to the surge-the surge as presented, the new surge strategy-wasn’t about bringing a temporary lull in violence to parts of Iraq, it was about giving breathing space to the Iraqis, politicians and to the Iraqi people so that they could move forward politically. And everyone agrees that this war only comes to end when there’s a political agreement.

“And there I have to say, we didn’t hear much at all to convince us that the surge is working in that sense. Now, to believe that it will work you have to believe that somehow in a few more months before the drawdown that General Petraeus signaled will start, political leaders will come together and reach agreements and the people on the street will start to feel more secure and therefore not build up their militias and keep their weapons ready for the coming battle. I just don’t get the sense that’s the case.

“I think the bottom line out of the testimony from [Monday], which is not going to change anyone’s mind in Congress, is that the president is going to carry out his strategy. Democrats and, frankly, most Americans would be skeptical that this progress is being made. But enough important people have political momentum to sustain the strategy. Democrats would have needed a significant number of Republicans to come over to their side to force the president to start making withdrawals-that’s not going to happen. So, what is going to happen is General Petraeus will get the chance to continue to implement that strategy. And Ambassador Crocker and others will work on the political reconciliation that they’re seeking.

“And maybe it will work. I’m personally skeptical but there’s a chance that this could happen. But what I don’t think will happen is that Congress or anyone else is going to force a change in strategy. And if you buy another six months-let’s say the administration has to report again in six months-then we’re starting to head towards an American election and the president is absolutely determined to stick to his guns. He’s not voluntarily going to pull out the troops. So if he’s not going to and Congress isn’t going to force him to, I think what we’re seeing here is an administration that is going to buy time and pursue this till the end of its term.”

More