When General Petraeus Reports

Hugh Hewitt
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Posted: Jul 27, 2007 8:27 AM
When General Petraeus Reports

President Bush made an excellent speech this week, laying out the case that al Qaeda in Iraq is a subsidiary of al Qaeda in Waziristan. He went further, and delineated the differences between the various terrorist organizations which share an ideology. His central premise --a retreat in Iraq means a huge win for al Qaeda everywhere it organizes-- was carefully constructed and reasoned and simply cannot be argued by the war's critics, only ignored.

Which is exactly what Congressional Democrats and the anti-war zealots have proceeded to do. There is a certain panic in the anti-war leadership as they see the same data that pro-surge commentators do, and understand that the unmistakable momentum on the side of the coalition threatens to bolster support for victory in Iraq. Victory in Iraq --the creation of a stable, functioning representative government protected by a strong Iraqi military capable of and committed to the suppression of terrorism and sectarian violence-- would be a vindication of the Bush Doctrine, and although it would also be in the very best interests of the country as a whole, the left sees a political disaster in such an outcome, and has hence redoubled its efforts to tarnish not just the president who ordered the war, but also the generals who lead it, and the soldiers who fight it. In the service of this last objective, The New Republic was pleased to bring its readers the now infamous "Baghdad Diarist," but that is just one of the more visible libels on the troops dressed up as "reporting" intended to be understood as a generally applicable view of the conduct of America's military.

Of course the victory hasn't been won, and of course the argument about the war isn't going to vanish even if General Petraeus gives an optimistic report in mid-September. But that report will matter a great deal, and I hope the Administration takes steps to assure that the American people get to hear it without the filter of the MSM or a Democratically-controlled Senate or House panel doing its best to muffle the good news and amplify the bad news.

I hope that General Petraeus appears before a respectful audience interested in his report and gives his remarks prefaced by an appeal to the MSM to at least play, uninterrupted, the first five minutes of his talk. If he then provided an executive summary of what he thinks is the situation in Iraq, there is an excellent chance that the American people will be allowed to hear the key facts from the key military leader. I hope after that summary he proceeds to deliver a detailed speech which the responsible networks will carry live (and radio hosts will replay) and that he then takes an hour of questions, before appearing before any Senate or House panel (which he will of course make himself available for.) Even though the day is long, I hope he ends it with Brit Hume followed by Charlie Rose, and then appears on Meet The Press and Wolf Blitzer's program the following Sunday, thus making himself available to the four best television interviewers working today. On the Monday following the Sunday shows, I hope he appears on the programs of Bill Bennett, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Prager, Sean Hannity, Michael Medved, and makes a return visit to mine as well. I hope he gives Ed Schultz and Alan Colmes interviews as well, and rounds out his debrief of the public by inviting a half dozen of the best columnists to meet with him and answer questions.

In the course of these talks, speeches, hearings and interviews, I hope General Petraeus does two key things.

First, I hope he communicates a realistic timetable for success in Iraq. While he may commit to making quarterly reports, support for the war has to be informed by realism as to how long it will take to bring about victory. Bluntly giving his best assessment of a timetable to victory will serve notice on the enemy that the military is prepared to go the distance, and it will also give the public a measuring stick not just for our effort their but for Congressional support for it as well. General Petraeus has been attacked by the anti-war fringe already, but Congressional Democrats dare not trash the man confirmed so recently with their strong support. At this moment he has the stature to lay out the timetable he needs.

I also hope General Petraeus tells us how many foreign jihadists have been killed in Iraq in the months since the surge began. I know the policy against giving body counts, and debated it on air with Tony Snow recently, but I hope the Pentagon will see that there is a huge difference between tallies of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese killed in the '60s and the '70s, and the number of international terrorists dispatched in Iraq in 2007.

Every single jihadist who crosses a border to attempt to kill Americans or Iraqis in Iraq has got to be assumed to be a killer willing to cross any border to do the same thing. These are the core warriors for bin Laden's depraved vision, and the greatest threat to the West generally and the United States specifically. The president made an excellent case in Charleston that we cannot allow al Qaeda to establish a base of operations in Iraq, supported by oil revenues and a much more sophisticated infrastructure than is available in the remote villages and caves of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

But that threat is still not real to many Americans. Why they refuse to believe the obvious is a problem, but the one measurement they may understand are the numbers of foreigners who travel to Iraq to make jihad against us. We can't know that exact number, but we can establish a minimum of the number of them killed by our military before they ever had the chance to take jihad anywhere else.

Every dead terrorist in Iraq represents a significant victory for American security (and every foreign jihadist there is there against the wishes of the lawful government of Iraq and must be considered a terrorist.) The numbers of these terrorists in the country and the number of them killed matter a great deal, as they communicate to the American public a sense of the scale of the threat we face in Iraq. Had we left when the Democrats wanted us to leave last year or early this year, those terrorists killed since the surge began would not only be alive, they would have greater training, greater ambitions, greater momentum, and a sense of mission that could carry many of them to the West. If the United States doesn't fight them in Iraq, we will indeed be fighting them in the county or in the countries of our allies.

General Petraeus and the officers and troops he commands have been winning huge victories for the American people as well as for Iraqis since January, and the significance of those victories deserves to be spelled out for the public and broadcast by the MSM. If General Petraeus asks for five minutes and doesn't get it from the networks, the outrage will be real and sustained. If he does get those five minutes I hope he assembles the facts that Americans need to hear and which will confirm for them not just the excellence of their military and the skill and courage with which they fight, but also the significance of their mission and the necessity of the awful sacrifices made by so many men and women.