Thursday, April 10, 2008

Deja Vu and Still No Answers on Iraq

If you live in the United States and don't live in a cave you know that for much of this week General David Petraeus and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker answered questions by both the House & Sanate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees. All of the sessions have been covered by C-SPAN and numerous clips are available on You-Tube.

After watching the Tuesday morning session from the House I had such a feeling of deja vu that I recorded the afternoon session from the Senate ( thank goodness Comcast broadcasts CSPAN3) and went into my garden to pull up weeds. Oh, if it were as easy to pull up the weeds out of Washington. There are those who try. However, after several days of testimony General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have given the American people no further insight into the situation in Iraq than we had before they testified. All they can suggest is wait until September.

Deja Vu

As you'd suspect, these hearings provided an opportunity for the three 2008 Presidential candidates to show up to work and get free network air time. To their credit, they did ask important questions. However, some of the most pointed questioning and interesting exchanges involved the other members of the House and Senate. Here are a few moments that I found very interesting.

In the following clip Senator John Warner presses General Petraeus to for a straight forward answer to his question. Senator Warner's facial expressions speak volumes.

In the following clip Senator Joe Biden reminds Ambassador Crocker that he needs to do more than "inform" Congress about future binding agreements with Iraq

In the following clip Senator Carl Levin questions General Petraeus

In the following clip Senator Russ Feingold makes the point that we may be achieving Osama Bin Laden's goal for him by bankrupting our military in Iraq.

and finally, Rep. Robert Wexler asks the question that most American's want to know. Just what does the Bush Administration, John McCain, et al consider as "winning" the war in Iraq.

And there you have it, American servicemen and women are waging a war for "
a region that is of critical importance to the global economy".

In a letter sent today to his constituents, those who responded to his request for question for General Petraeus and, all of those who support his call for impeachment hearings for VP DIck Cheney, Rep. Wexler wrote:

" I want to thank you for the overwhelming response we received to my request for questions for General Petraeus. Thousands of emails poured in from all over the nation. My staff and I examined every suggested question and we were truly impressed with the passion, sophistication, and knowledge of the submissions. Choosing a few questions out of so many excellent entries was an extraordinarily difficult task.

One of the most commonly suggested questions centered on how General Petraeus defines victory in Iraq. This question struck a chord with me - as it no doubt did with so many of you - because it demands that the Administration actually define its goals (which, as you'll see below, are totally unrealistic).

Underscoring the tragedy of the Administration's failed policy, one of my constituents died in an attack on the Green Zone on Monday. I spoke with his parents yesterday, and they asked me to ask General Petraeus a simple question: For what? For what had they lost their son?

I asked him this question, and then asked him to define "victory."

I did not expect General Petraeus to answer either directly, but he did.

He stated that we were fighting for national interest, including region's "importance to the global economy." (In my mind, a stunning admission of the true motives behind this war.)

He stated that they were trying to achieve a country that is "at peace with itself and its neighbors," "could defend itself" that was "reasonably representative of and broadly responsive to its citizens."

These are not reasonable objectives. Half the countries around the world are not able to defend themselves. Many have internal and external conflict - and few - including our own, are broadly responsive to its citizens.

(I find that last objective sadly ironic, as the Bush Administration, by continuing this misguided war, is broadly unresponsive to American citizens.)

I was out of time before I could ask a follow up… but if you read between the lines, his answer is vast in its scope. Clearly, their goals for Iraq and interpretation of "national interest" are wholly at odds with a swift redeployment of forces.

It has been a year and a half since the 2006 elections - more than enough time for us to have required, through provisions attached to funding, a phased withdrawal. At the least, we could have forced a genuine showdown with President Bush that would have forced him to defend his policies.

There is no excuse for even one more American casualty in Iraq.
Our troops must be redeployed. The Bush/Petraeus policy that denies reality must not carry the day.

I urge you to remain active and steadfast in your opposition to this open-ended, vaguely guided war.

Please read my exchange with General Petraeus below."]

Congressman Robert Wexler


Congressman Wexler:

Thank you. General Petraeus, last week in anticipation of this hearing I sent an urgent e-mail asking my constituents and other Americans: if they were serving on this committee, what is the one question they would pose to you.

There was an extraordinary response, with more than five thousand questions submitted, these e-mails and phone calls expressed deeply held frustrations about the war in Iraq, and reflect the concerns of millions across the nation who feel their opinions and concerns were cast aside by the Bush Administration.

I want to thank everyone who responded and submitted a question for today's hearings. While many of the respondents rightfully-highlighted the bravery of our troops, a majority of the e-mails expressed a strong desire to see withdrawal of American soldiers from Iraq, and an end to this five year war, that has cost our nation so dearly.

Most of the question! s boiled down to this: General we often hear President Bush and Senator McCain say we must win in Iraq. What is the definition of winning? What would a military victory look like, that was sufficient enough, to allow us to begin leaving?

Then, in a horrific turn of events, two of my constituents: Hester and Linn Wolfer of Boca Raton Florida, learned that this past Sunday their son had been killed for this war. Major Stuart Wolfer was a thirty six year reservist on his second tour. He was married with three young children ages five, three, and twenty months. His family was relieved that he was in the green zone, for they hoped he would be safe there. He was not.

I spoke to Mr. Wolfer yesterday last night, who asked me to ask you, simply: For What, for what had he lost his son? So allow me to combine if you will, the questions from the people that responded to me and Mr. Wolfer: What has all this been for? And please, respectfully, don't tell us as you told Senator Warner yesterday: to remove a brutal dictator. That's not good enough.

There are many dictators in the world. For what did Stuart Wolfer and the other four thousand and twenty four sons and daughters die for? And how will we define victory, so we can bring this never ending war to a close?

And if I will, when Mr. Burton asks for a definition of what is failure, we get a litany of items. But when Mr. Ackerman asks what is the definition of victory, we get little. Please tell us General, What is winning?

General Petraeus: First of all, Congress, let me tell you that what we are fighting for is national interest.

It is interest that as I stated have to do with Al Qaeda, a sworn enemy of the United States and the free world, has to do with the possible spread of sectarian conflict in Iraq, conflict that had engulfed that country and had it on the brink of Civil War.

It has to do with regional stability, a region that is of critical importance to the global economy, and it has to do with certainly the influence of Iran, another obviously very important element, in that region.

In terms of what it is that we are trying to achieve, I think simply it is a country that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, it is a country that can defend itself, that has a government that is reasonably representative and broadly responsive to its citizens, and a country that is involved in and engaged in, again the global economy.

Ambassador Crocker and I, for what it's worth, have typically seen ourselves as minimalists, we're not after the Holy Grail in Iraq and we're not after Jeffersonian Democracy.

We're after conditions that would allow our soldiers to disengage, and that is in fact what we are doing. As we achieve progress, as we have with the Surge, and that is what is indeed allowing us to withdraw the Surge forces, again well over one quarter of our ground combat power five of 20 brigade combat teams plus two marine battalions and the marine expeditionary unit by the end of July.

Congressman Wexler: Thank you.

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By the way we still have troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

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