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Friday, April 02, 2010

Remembering the Petraeus testimony 


Vanity Fair is running a nice article about David Petraeus, for my money the most important American general in a couple of generations (sorry, Norman). The opening paragraphs are, perhaps, the most arresting aspect of the story, because they remind us of the attitude of Congressional Democrats toward Petraeus when he testified about the early success of the "surge" in 2007 (bold emphasis added).

Decked out in dress greens, his uniform so laden with insignia, badges, patches, ribbons, and medals that it seemed to pull him into a slight stoop, the Most Important General in America, David Howell Petraeus, arrived on Capitol Hill in September of 2007 bearing remarkable news.

Just back from Baghdad, the hot center of a four-year-long war that had come to be seen as a fiasco, Petraeus would testify that things had begun to improve—that the counter-insurgency strategy he had initiated eight months before was working, against all odds and expectations. Violent incidents had fallen off dramatically. Former Sunni insurgents had come around and begun to oppose al-Qaeda. Dangerous Shiite militias were putting down their arms. Instead of conceding futility and abandoning Iraq to chaos and civil war, there was a good chance the United States could stabilize the country enough to begin a relatively bloodless and honorable phased withdrawal.

The general brought, in short, unwelcome news, at least to many Democratic lawmakers.

When he arrived in the crowded hearing room, on the morning of September 10, only his immediate staff had read his planned testimony. With members of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees staring down at him from a two-tiered dais, the general emphasized that simple fact: “I wrote this testimony myself,” he said. “It has not been cleared by, nor shared with, anyone in the Pentagon, the White House, or the Congress.”

Shutters clicked and cameras flashed. The general seemed perfectly calm but was, in fact, uncomfortable. The stakes were enormous, the emotion was palpable, the scrutiny was intense. The sheer length of the hearings would be physically painful. Fortified with Motrin, Petraeus sat erect at the edge of a hard chair that afforded no cushion for his pelvis, which he had broken seven years earlier in a parachute jump. He is a slight man, still boyish in his mid-50s, with blue eyes, limp brown hair combed flat to the right, and a concave face whose features slope away from a prominent nose. He looks more like a bookworm than a warrior. Cheerful by nature, he is eager to please and eager to explain. Petraeus is a world-class explainer. There is scarcely a soldier who has served with him who has not, in the general’s own words, “been PowerPointed to within an inch of his life.” His presentations are masterworks of explication that aspire to the level of art. They reflect his deep understanding of—indeed, his love for—the byzantine machinery of America’s military-industrial complex.

But no matter how well prepared he might be, there was little chance of dazzling this crowd. Before he had even opened his mouth he was under attack. Democrats had won a majority in Congress and were gearing up to ride anger and frustration over the Iraq war to the White House. The last thing they wanted to hear was that things were looking up—that President George W. Bush’s so-called surge was working. The advocacy group MoveOn.org, anticipating that Petraeus would fail to signal retreat, had attacked him with a full-page ad in that day’s New York Times, labeling him “General Betray Us.” Before the first word of his presentation, Armed Services chairman Ike Skelton described the general’s efforts in Iraq as a failure. Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Lantos, a pink-faced Democrat from California with a perfectly coiffed white halo, squinted down at the general—again before seeing or hearing a word from him—and pronounced, “With all due respect to you, I must say, I don’t buy it.”

That was just the start. Petraeus would sit through two long days of hearings, first in the House, and the next day before the Senate heavyweights, including three Democratic presidential hopefuls vying with one another to appear the most fervently anti-war. He had flown through eight time zones to answer questions, only to face interrogators more keen on listening to themselves. He was lectured by Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joseph Biden, who questioned the validity of the general’s figures about the sharply reduced violence. (Biden was in fact wrong.) Senator Hillary Clinton, then the front-runner, in so many words called Petraeus a liar. To be fair, she put it politely, and might even have meant it as a compliment, one professional prevaricator to another, calling his testimony an “extraordinary effort” but one that requires a “willing suspension of disbelief.”

Senator Barack Obama was equally dismissive. He had staked his campaign in part on the purity of his opposition to the war. When his turn came, Obama lectured Petraeus on the futility of his mission, using up the full seven minutes allocated to him and giving the general no chance to respond. “We have now set the bar so low,” said Obama, “that modest improvement in what was a completely chaotic situation …is considered success. And it’s not. This continues to be a disastrous foreign-policy mistake.”

It goes on from there, reminding us what fools these guys were. Especially Joe Biden.

Candidly, I never thought I would read something so embarrassing to sitting Democratic politicians in Vanity Fair. Previously announced boycott suspended.

27 Comments:

By Blogger Progressively Defensive, at Fri Apr 02, 11:39:00 AM:

Totally; shocked Vanity Fair came through ... Petraeus a credit to the WWSchool.

McCain ran the worst campaign I think I've seen for president.

Three big mistakes ...

1) He should have pointed out that Obama wanted to let Hussein have WMD rather than that he questioned the intelligence; that was the key nuance there. Further his suposed foreign policy guru, VP Biden, voted for the war.

2) Palin, who's fine in may ways, was a disastrous pick. His whole theme was Obama's inexperience he destroyed that, his pick being the possible next president for being the one person with less. He could no longer even say it aloud. Dumb. These Republicans (remember Quayle) are in the protegee mode for VPs whilst Democrats wisely pick excellent substitutes (on paper): Bentsen, Gore, Biden. Except for the cool one, Reagan, who picked Bush I.

3) Obama was beyond Carter and McCain should have pressed him on his support for Reaganomics. Obama never had to opine on the Reagan Revolution which would have defined him as a Carter-ite.

I think the Republicans are so convinced of their views they've stopped empathizing with the persuadable Independent or wavering Democrat and Republican.

I think Guiliani would have made and would make an excellent president. He had some sleazy moments personally, but for talent, it would be OK by me.  

By Anonymous The Truth is Out There, at Fri Apr 02, 12:51:00 PM:

Back in 2002, you couldn't find a bigger cheerleader in the Senate for invading Iraq than Joe Biden.

Didn't Hillary vote YES in 2002, despite all her access to inside dope.

Then a State Senator, Obama gave one speech to an anti-war rally in 2002 -- in finance you call this "buying a long-dated out-of-the-money option." Amazingly, Obama buried references to this speech from 2003 until 2006 -- he even took it of his website.

The old joke goes "An auditor watches the battle from the safety of the hills and then comes down to bayonet the wounded." Substitute "politician."

Me ... I was against the Iraq Invasion -- I was for the Surge. That's not inconsistent: We broke it -- we own it. Iraq is too strategically important.  

By Anonymous Mad As Hell, at Fri Apr 02, 12:55:00 PM:

"Progressively Defensive" criticized the McCain campaign, so allow me to retort. "McCain the person" is old news. But the 2008 campaign isn't. It's still very relevant to 2010 and even more so to 2012.

1) Re the Iraq Invasion and the Surge

McCain did a lot to support the Surge. Was there anyone in Congress more vocal in support of it? McCain got too little credit for this from the Inner Party. They only want to remember McCain-Feingold and Immigration (which was actually Bush's initiative).

Bush was quite unpopular in 2008 -- many readers here don't want to know from this. McCain had Hubert Humphrey's 1968 challenge of needing to distance himself from an unpopular sitting President and an unpopular war. McCain never found a way to do this. Using Bush's people to run his campaign didn't help. By being so pro-Surge, McCain was tied too much to the Iraq War. Too many voters wanted to send a message. Guiliani might have side-stepped this.

2) Palin wasn't a disastrous pick. She gave McCain a needed early boost, but became a drag at the end ... but she wasn't outcome determinative. The Financial Meltdown on top of Iraq made it virtually certain that a Democrat would win. Hillary would have won by over 10%.

If you like having Palin around thank McCain. Had he not picked her, 95% of us would never have heard of her. Even if Palin doesn't run for office again, she's a welcome and effective voice.

3) On economic issues and his Great Plans, you couldn't lay a glove on Obama because MSM wouldn't let you. They wouldn't let the Clintons put a glove on him either.  

By Anonymous sirius_sir, at Fri Apr 02, 12:56:00 PM:

(Biden was in fact wrong.)

By now there should be a single keystroke app for that.

As for Clinton's contention that Petraeus's testimony required a "willing suspension of disbelief"--to be fair, she was absolutely correct in her assessment. Unfortunately, neither she nor her cohort were willing to suspend their obstinate disbelief long enough to learn the truth. In fact, they couldn't handle the truth. Couldn't then, and--in the case of more than a few--still can't now.

By way of illustration, I couldn't help notice that during Letterman's widely hailed interview with the Tea Party lady, he wrongly asserted, to rousing applause, that Iraq was still a hotbed of terrorism--which, if it were in fact true would put him diametrically at odds with our vice-President, who, not all that long ago, oddly intimated that it was the Obama Administration that could somehow claim credit for Iraq becoming such a surprising success. Either Letterman is wrong or (Biden was in fact wrong) once again. Or maybe it is true that both are/were wrong, mistaken, ill-informed. Which surprises no-one who is paying attention.

Maybe Petraeus could be invited onto the Letterman show to explain things. Once again.  

By Blogger Buku, at Fri Apr 02, 01:02:00 PM:

the general gave us what would become the 14 rules brief while I was a student at command and staff.

I like the cut of the guy's jib, but he's no Jim Mattis.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Apr 02, 01:19:00 PM:

Jim Mattis was one Hell of a fine combat field general, a Marine, a tough hombre, someone men would follow into Hell if that were the mission. Read "No True Glory" by Bing West.

Jim Mattis = Lucian Truscott (the WWII Truscott)

David Petraeus commanded the 101st Airborne in the early days of OIF. He is a very able field officer, but a better staff officer than General Mattis would have been. Mattis would have been out of his depth in General Petraeus shoes as commander of MNF-Iraq and then Centcom commander.

Petraeus = Omar N. Bradley, IMHO.

And the tragedy is that both men have more class and dignity than a great majority of our elected members of Congress. Would that those people have some of the same temperment, integrity and personal courage, Democrat or Republican. What a much better government this would be.

-David  

By Blogger Buku, at Fri Apr 02, 01:46:00 PM:

retired Marine so Im biased about Mattis. I have served under the command of both officers.

I would follow either anywhere. What continues to mystify me is how incompetent senior military officers are portrayed in film and pop literature. I dont think most folks have a grasp on how competitive achieving the senior leadership posts in a merit based military really is. Most of those guys are freaks of nature in about every category.

Anyhow, You send Mattis when you want a body count, ...he does break a bit of the china so to speak. Marines love him. He has a habit of materializing on the battlefield right when things are getting interesting. He has a sixth sense that tells him where to be.

General Pataeus has no qualms lopping off heads either, hes just much more gentlemanly about it. He should have been a Marine, he's more suited to our enterprenurial culture.

Petraeus = Lion 6
Mattis = Chaos 6
Both are apt monikers IMHO.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Fri Apr 02, 02:02:00 PM:

That was an excellent piece by Mark Bowden in Vanity Fair. Bowden, the author of "Black Hawk Down," is a straight shooter, and he certainly is not reflexively anti-military. I'm guessing that his article gave Graydon Carter (the editor of the magazine) some heartburn.  

By Blogger Hal Dall, MD, at Fri Apr 02, 04:18:00 PM:

Superb article, thanks for the link.

As a middle-aged civilian, I'd scarcely heard of Petraeus when Bush appointed him, but I soon heard from my son(in Anbar)that his CO was nearly wild in his praise as the brains and face of counterinsurgency. He later related this story on his blog, as the General, shall we say, "walked the walk"?:

http://badgersforward.blogspot.com/2007/03/news-story-from-ramadi.html  

By Blogger Stack Trace, at Fri Apr 02, 04:42:00 PM:

I grew up in a solid-blue (democrat) working-class factory family. But MoveOn's vicious attacks against Petraeus made me completely abandon that organization, and I had the pleasure of lecturing a fund-raising droid over the phone about my anger with them.

When it was clear to me what Petraeus (and many others) had accomplished and how fragile those accomplishments were, and it was clear that the Democrats were betting on failure to win power, and it was clear that McCain would fight the long (and good) fight, I voted Republican (for president) for the first time in my life. I had some doubts then, but every month that has passed since then has confirmed that decision.

Unless the Republicans put up a Voldemort/Vader ticket, I'm going to vote Republican again in 2012.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Apr 02, 05:17:00 PM:

It goes on from there, reminding us what fools these guys were.

To be fair, Tigerhawk, there were "fools" in the military, the WH and the Republican party who opposed the surge beginning with General Casey who was the commander on the ground in Iraq! So too, Gen'l Abizaid, commander of CENTCOM, Jt Chiefs of Staff Pace, Mullen, Schoomaker, Sens. Kit Bond, John Warner (chair of the Armed Forces Comm), Brownback, and the Iraq Sttudy Group, which had been established to help him find a way out of Iraq. Why even good ol' Ollie North said it wouldn't work.

Woodward's book "The War Within" covers the issue in great detail. Here's an excerpt here I'm no fan of Bush, but one of the remarkable aspects about the surge (and Bush) is that he had the cajonnes to buck the views of all the experts around him (save a couple of guys from a think tank and Joe Lieberman:)) and put all his chips on Petraeus and go "all in." Fascinating.  

By Blogger randian, at Fri Apr 02, 06:50:00 PM:

Palin was disatrous? If so, then name any female Republican McCain could have picked that would not have been portrayed by the MSM as stupid, a cheap stunt, and an Uncle Tom.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Apr 02, 07:39:00 PM:

"And the tragedy is that both men have more class and dignity than a great majority of our elected members of Congress. Would that those people have some of the same temperment, integrity and personal courage, Democrat or Republican. What a much better government this would be."

Thank you Anonymous 01:19:00 PM! You have codified my exact sentiments.  

By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Fri Apr 02, 07:41:00 PM:

randian, I am no student of Republican women politics but without much more than a nanosecond of thought I came up with Condi Rice, whether you like her or not. I am sure there are more out there. I think the point is McCain did not need to choose a woman, just someone younger and qualified to be president in the case of his demise. Sarah is younger.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Apr 02, 07:54:00 PM:

other far more competent female republicans are out there besides Sarah Palin. I think of her as the bookend to Dan Quale, only less qualified! How about Olympia Snow? Kay Bailey Hutchison? Christie Todd Whitman?  

By Blogger randian, at Fri Apr 02, 08:11:00 PM:

Liking Rice has nothing to do with it. She's unelectable for the same reason Palin is.  

By Anonymous The Truth is Out There, at Fri Apr 02, 09:49:00 PM:

To Bomber Girl and Anon 7:54:

Coincidentally, yesterday was final letter day for college admissions 2010. You drop the names Condi, Olympia, Kay, Christie. All Ivy-admissible. I'm sure.

Sarah would never have made the 1 in 12 at Princeton today, or the 1 in 6 of a generation ago. Not even at Penn ... horrors! In fact, it would have been a crime for Princeton to steal her application fee. An 18-year old Sarah -- then and now -- would draw snickers from a Princeton admissions committee ... unless she were an Eskimo ... or adopted by Chris Chambers (Triple Word Score!!). Tell me I'm wrong.

But none of the women you cite -- admirable as they are -- would score well at "leadership." Some of them actually sucked at it. No CEO would want any of them to run a division. No general would want any of them to run a regiment. Tell me I'm wrong.

Don't tell me Condi operated at a "higher level." Some black comedian had a great riff about how he wanted a wife like Condi ... the boss calls her up .... "Yes he's really sick ... I've got it too." "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud" ... I doubt she wrote it, but she read it with such conviction. Blow me.

*****

But both Bomber Girl and Anon 7:54 have real issues with Sarah -- and they're representative enough of key demographics to call Sarah's electability into question.

So this inquiring mind asks ... truly ... why?

It's not enough to say she's dumb because she didn't go to an "accepted" college or get a 3rd rate law degree. Or is it?
Do you really think she's dumber than Joe Biden?

Class issues lurk .....

I welcome a dialogue here about gender/race/class/ethnicity on these issues. I have an interesting perspective, if you care.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Apr 02, 09:56:00 PM:

[Rice is] unelectable for the same reason Palin is.

Doesn't compute. What's the reason?  

By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Fri Apr 02, 10:57:00 PM:

TTIOT, I put up Condi to refute randian's point that the MSM would get all over her for being stupid, a cheap stunt and an Uncle Tom. I wouldn't think any of those apply. I still think that there were probably other stronger Republican women candidates than Sarah was, or Condi for that matter. My larger point is that I do not consider Sarah to be qualified to be president (which I happen to view as the most important consideration, many might disagree). Doesn't mean I wouldn't consider her as a candidate for something. While I am not comfortable with several of her positions and I find some of her shtick petty and annoying, I do appreciate her willingess to stick to her guns about her own beliefs. (oops, shouldn't have mentioned weaponry. touchy subject these days).

On the Ivy Admissable bit, I think the Ivies look at many candidates from all different social classes, even back in the day. If I recall correctly, Sarah's father was a teacher, she was a good student, an an athlete. Maybe she should have applied. Worked for me. Mind you, I never got to be governor of Alaska. Just as well.  

By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Fri Apr 02, 11:11:00 PM:

One added thought since you (TTIOT) bring up the leadership issue which, I agree, is key. Sarah's "leadership style" whatever that may be does not appeal to me, so whatever "key demographic" you are including me in would have to get over that for any hope of electability.  

By Anonymous vk45, at Sat Apr 03, 12:26:00 AM:

"How about Olympia Snow? Kay Bailey Hutchison? Christie Todd Whitman?"

No, no, and no.  

By Blogger randian, at Sat Apr 03, 01:38:00 AM:

TTIOT, I put up Condi to refute randian's point that the MSM would get all over her for being stupid, a cheap stunt and an Uncle Tom

But it doesn't. Have you forgotten how badly Condi was treated when she was nominated? It's a settled doctrine of the left that women and Blacks are properly leftists. That they basically own women and Blacks. Any that stray from the plantation suffer from false consciousness, brainwashing, and/or are traitors to their race and sex. Now, they are rarely so explicit about it, but that's the underlying psychology behind the vicious and cruel attacks on Palin, and indeed behind the attacks on most any woman or minority the Republican party fields.

How about Olympia Snow? Kay Bailey Hutchison?

They're nominally Republicans, but they're in reality Progressives. The MSM gives kudos to RINOs, precisely because they know so many politicians crave public approval, and mistake "media approval" for "public approval". It is very effective at moving and keeping politicians on the left. Once you move left in your politics you start getting invited to all the right parties and get praised in the media for being so enlightened. It's just a much nicer place to be, an easier path to follow. That's why so many politicians and judges get seduced by the Beltway and move left once there.  

By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Sat Apr 03, 07:27:00 AM:

randian, women and blacks do tend to vote for the democrats in larger percentages but perhaps this is because they are more attracted by the platform and not simply brainwashed or owned. Rather than believe this is "settled doctrine" I would suggest that republicans focus on the parts of their message and their messengers that do not appeal to these groups. At the moment, however, it seems that neither party (or their leadership) really appeals to anyone. And to return to the topic at hand, a leader like Patraeus would certainly improve the image of political candidates. Sadly for us, he seems to be too sane.  

By Anonymous The Truth is Out There, at Sat Apr 03, 08:17:00 AM:

"whatever "key demographic" you are including me in" ... College-educated women. You're "Bomber Girl" so I assumed.

Sarah doesn't do well with this demographic, including among Independents and even Republicans -- and is even hated by many. It may make her unelectable.

"Women's Rights / Abortion" is a factor in this. I'm tempted to say that there's a Mean Girls thing going on too, but that would be wrong, wouldn't it?  

By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Sat Apr 03, 08:26:00 AM:

TTIOT, yes, Women's Rights/Abortion is a factor for sure. Don't know about the Mean Girls thing, not my kind of movie.  

By Blogger randian, at Sun Apr 04, 04:06:00 AM:

randian, women and blacks do tend to vote for the democrats in larger percentages but perhaps this is because they are more attracted by the platform and not simply brainwashed or owned.

Read what I said more carefully. I didn't say blacks were brainwashed, I said the left believes that conservative blacks are brainwashed, that a conservative black isn't an "authentic" black. Further, I didn't say the left owns blacks, but that the left believes they own blacks, that's why the left gets to pontificate on what an "authentic" racial minority is. Conservative blacks like Thomas Sowell would be excoriated in the media for daring to define an "authentic" black, so you know the real point isn't about blacks per se at all, but to exercise group peer pressure to keep straying blacks toeing the left's line. Now, I happen to believe that the only person who gets to say how authentic I am is me, but the left promotes groupthink, which makes peer pressure more effective.  

By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Sun Apr 04, 09:35:00 AM:

randian, I don't think the left has a monopoly of "groupthink" mentality. Why else would candidates like McCain and Palin highlight their "maverick" qualifications if not to to try to separate themselves from their party grouplink at large. Political parties are groupthink vehicles by design. You just might agree with one group's ideas more than the other. Or not.  

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