McCain Wants To Avoid Looking Like "Eager Cheerleader": The New York Times notes that John McCain "risks looking like an eager cheerleader if he heaps too many accolades on General Petraeus." So the senator's advisers "say he will also question the general closely about the recent assault against Shiite militias in Basra, when more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers refused to fight or abandoned their posts. The battle cast doubt on the effectiveness of the American-trained security forces, another likely line of questioning for Mr. McCain, as it was in September."
While Petraeus Prepares To Testify, Violence Erupts: Some news clips from this morning:
Reuters: "Iraq attacks up as U.S. officials to testify-- Attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad increased sharply in March, the U.S. military said on Tuesday."
LA Times: Fighting intensifies in Iraq's capital: Three U.S. troops are killed in Baghdad on the eve of Gen. David H. Petraeus' testimony before Congress-- Three more U.S. troops were killed Monday as Iraqis struggled to bury their dead amid fierce street battles between Shiite Muslim militias and Iraqi and American soldiers in the nation's capital.
New York Times: Crackdown on Militias Raises Stability Concerns -- A crackdown on the Mahdi Army militia is creating potentially destabilizing political and military tensions in Iraq, pitting a stronger government alliance against the force that has won past showdowns: the street power wielded by the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr.
Little Hope For Improved Security Before New President In '09: Reuters reports that Petraeus will offer little hope for improved security before a new president is sworn in in January:
The top U.S. commander in Iraq presents a long-awaited progress report to Congress on Tuesday but will offer little hope for improved security before a new American president takes over in January.
All three contenders for the U.S. presidency will be among the senators questioning Gen. David Petraeus, who is expected to say he will interrupt a series of troop withdrawals in July to evaluate security conditions.
Iraq Hearings Become Forum For Presidential Candidates: The AP reports that David Petraeus' testimony before Congress on the effectiveness of the surge gives the presidential candidates an opportunity to offer their own analysis:
When Army Gen. David Petraeus delivers his assessment of the Iraq war next week, the next commander in chief will weigh in as well.
Republican Sen. John McCain will get a chance to argue that last year's U.S. troop buildup has been a success and withdrawal would be a mistake. Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama will have an opportunity to ask why the United States is still fighting more than five years after the invasion.
Iraq And Reality: The Nation lists 5 important realities to keep in mind during Petraeus' testimony:
1. The situation in Iraq is getting worse: Don't believe anyone who says otherwise. The surge-ified, "less violent" Iraq the general has presided over so confidently is, in fact, a chaotic, violent tinderbox of city states, proliferating militias armed to the teeth, competing regions armed to the teeth, and competing religious factions armed to the teeth. Worse yet, under Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the U.S. has been the great proliferator. It has armed and funded close to 100,000 Sunnis organized into militias reportedly intent on someday destroying "the Iranians" (i.e. the Maliki government)...
2. The Bush administration has no learning curve. Its top officials are unable to absorb the realities of Iraq (or the region) and so, like the generals of World War I, simply send their soldiers surging "over the top" again and again, with minor changes in tactics, to the same dismal end.
A Timeline Of Iraq War And Troop Levels: Troop levels will be a contentious issue during the hearings as fears grow that our military has been overextended by the surge. The AP has a timeline of the major events in the Iraq war and corresponding U.S. troop levels:
March 2003 _ U.S. troops invade Iraq: 192,000.
May 2003 _ President Bush declares the end of major combat: 146,000.
January 2005 _ First post-invasion Iraqi election: 159,000.
October 2005 _ Iraqi referendum on the constitution: 157,000.
December 2005 _Iraqi parliamentary elections: 152,000.
June 2006 _ Lowest troop level since July 2004: 125,000.
September 2006 _ Escalating insurgent violence: 147,000.
January 2007 _ Bush announces troop "surge" plan: 137,000.
October 2007 _Troop buildup peaks: 170,000.
March 2008 _ U.S. troop deaths reach 4,000: 158,000.
The Violence In Basra: TIME magazine's Joe Klein writes that an important thing to watch for is if Petraeus has the same reading as McCain does on the violence in Shiite-dominated Basra:
One of the key things to watch is if Petraeus reads Basra the same way as John McCain did today on Fox news:
"It was al-Sadr that declared the ceasefire, not Maliki," said McCain. "With respect, I don't think Sadr would have declared the ceasefire if he thought he was winning. Most times in history, military engagements, the winning side doesn't declare the ceasefire. The second point is, overall, the Iraqi military performed pretty well. ... The military is functioning very effectively."
This is a fundamental misreading of Sadr's aim and of the situation. McCain seems to think that Sadr--who didn't start the fight--has a military goal in the south. On the contrary, Sadr's goal is political: he--or the political experts in the Sadrist movement--hope to do very well in the local elections next October. The Sadrist goal is to hold on to the neighborhoods they control, so their vote won't be stolen (and so they can do unto Dawa and ISCI electorally in those neighborhoods that which theyDawa and ISCI want to do unto them).
McCain also delivered a speech about Iraq in advance of Petraeus' testimony. Here is an excerpt:
But there is no doubt about the basic reality in Iraq: we are no longer staring into the abyss of defeat, and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success. Success in Iraq is the establishment of a generally peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic state that poses no threat to its neighbors and contributes to the defeat of terrorists. It is the advance of religious tolerance over violent radicalism. It is a level of security that allows the Iraqi authorities to govern, the average person to live a normal life, and international entities to operate. It is a situation in which the rule of law, after decades of tyranny, takes hold. It is an Iraq where Iraqi forces have the responsibility for enforcing security in their country, and where American troops can return home, with the honor of having secured their country's interests at great personal cost, and helping another people achieve peace and self-determination.
Read the full speech here.
It's Not All About The Candidates: While most of the focus will be on the presidential candidates, the Politico reminds us "that there are other aspects of the hearing worth watching for":
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?
The President And His General: Democrats will likely question Petraeus very closely on whether he has been willing to give Bush information that is contrary to Bush's upbeat assessments of Iraq's security situation. As the Washington Post reports, Bush has given Petraeus a privileged voice among his military advisers:
In the waning months of his administration, Bush has hitched his fortunes to those of his bookish four-star general, bypassing several levels of the military chain of command to give Petraeus a privileged voice in White House deliberations over Iraq, according to current and former administration officials and retired officers. In so doing, Bush's working relationship with his field commander has taken on an intensity that is rare in the history of the nation's wartime presidents.
Bush's reliance on Petraeus has made other military officials uneasy, has rankled congressional Democrats and has created friction that helped spur the departure last month of Adm. William J. "Fox" Fallon, who, while Petraeus's boss as chief of U.S. Central Command, found his voice eclipsed on Iraq.
Where The Money Could Have Gone: Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office has calculated that the U.S. spends about $339 million a day in Iraq. Ahead of Petraeus' testimony, the Speaker has released a list of what we could have used that money for:
- 2,060 more Border Patrol agents could be hired to protect our borders for a year.
- 18,000 more students could receive Pell Grants to help them attend college for a year.
- 48,000 homeless veterans could be provided with a place to live for a year.
- 317,000 more kids could receive every recommended vaccination for a year.
- 955,000 families could get help with their energy bills through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for a year.
McCain's Allies Go On Offense: Senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham, two of McCain's chief allies in the Senate, took to the Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal to promote their version of Iraq's situation the day before Petraeus's testimony:
When Gen. David Petraeus testifies before Congress tomorrow, he will step into an American political landscape dramatically different from the one he faced when he last spoke on Capitol Hill seven months ago.
This time Gen. Petraeus returns to Washington having led one of the most remarkably successful military operations in American history. His antiwar critics, meanwhile, face a crisis of credibility - having confidently predicted the failure of the surge, and been proven decidedly wrong.
Needless to say, there are others with a different assessment of Iraq's current situation ahead of Petraeus' testimony:
When Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker brief Congress this week, they will be hard-pressed to depict Iraq as moving toward stability in the wake of recent violence that sent deaths soaring to their highest level in seven months.
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's move against Shiite Muslim militias has revealed the gravity of the country's Shiite rivalries, just as U.S. forces are decreasing their presence.
The intense combat in southern Iraq that pitted Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army against Iraqi and American forces has largely wound down for the time being, but the enmity that fueled it remains. Fighting between the two sides flared Sunday in Baghdad, leaving as many as 22 dead...
..."We are now locked in a battle," said a high-ranking Iraqi government official, who predicted more confrontations in the coming months. "I think this will be a hot summer in Iraq."