The top military commander and senior U.S. diplomat in Iraq told members of the Senate that the President's surge is implementing security conditions necessary for political reconciliation.
"The security has improved and that gives you an environment when you can proceed with political reconciliation," Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Monday morning. "They are starting to get the space to work on it."
Crocker’s assessment echoes President Bush’s hope that his January decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq would create "breathing room" for the Iraqi government to reconcile.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said stable security was a precondition for unity: “Political progress will only take place is sufficient security exists." He cited a decrease in violent attacks, an overall decrease in civilian casualties and willingness of Anbari Iraqis to fight with the Iraqi Security Forces as evidence of the surge’s success thus far.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R.-Neb.), who announced he would be retiring from the Senate when his term expires in 2008, asked some of the most aggressive questions of the day. “The President said we were going to buy time! Time for what? There has been very little political progress, which is the core question,” Hagel said.
“Where is this going to go?” Hagel demanded.
“It is my judgment that Iraq completely unraveled in 2006 and in the beginning of 2007,” Crocker told him. “Under those conditions...[it was] impossible to proceed with effective government or effective reconciliation. It is just in those last few months that those measures of violence have come down.”
At one point, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) told Petraeus and Crocker to “take off your rosy glasses” and take responsibility for the Iraq war, which she called the “the mother of all mistakes.” Because of time constraints, Petraeus and Crocker were only permitted to respond to her in writing after the hearing.
Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.), who is pursuing the Democratic nomination for President, had seven minutes of question time but spent the majority of it making clear he was not satisfied with the performance of the surge.
Obama said, “We’ve set the bar so low that modest improvement...is considered a success. And it’s not. This continues to be a disastrous foreign policy mistake.”
He conceded “the surge had some impact” but “the impact has been relatively modest given the situation.”
On Monday, Petraeus and Crocker testified in a joint-hearing before the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee. There, Petraeus announced that he had recommended a “substantial” drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq to begin by Christmas and would return troop numbers to pre-surge levels by August 2008.
Both of them warned the Senate Foreign Affairs committee that withdrawing troops more rapidly would carry significant risk.
Crocker said “that abandoning or drastically curtailing our efforts will bring failure, and the consequences of such failure must be clearly understood.”
Petraeus was more specific in his opening statement: “Rapid withdrawal would result in the further release of the strong centrifugal forces in Iraq and produce a number of dangerous results, including a high risk of disintegration of the Iraqi Security Forces; rapid deterioration of local security initiatives; Al Qaeda-Iraq regaining lost ground and freedom of maneuver, a marked increase in violence and further ethno-sectarian displacement and refugee flows; alliances of convenience by Iraqi groups with internal and external forces to gain advantages over their rivals; an exacerbation of already challenging regional dynamics, especially with respect to Iran.”
Petraeus and Crocker will also testify before the Senate Armed Services committee at 2 p.m. Tuesday.