"Are we fixed yet?"
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton's question -- asked after Gen. David Petraeus' microphone failed to work -- is something of a metaphor both for Washington and Baghdad.
That microphone failure at the start of Petraeus' dramatic congressional testimony is an ironic reminder.
If it can go wrong, it will. Murphy's Law affects everything, but Gen. Murphy rules warfare. War is the effort where everything goes wrong, and the winner's art is to ultimately be less wrong than the loser. France's Georges Clemenceau provided a more elegant rendering: War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory. It's why perseverance and will are the traits of victors. Murphy's Law also rules well-prepared and long-anticipated congressional testimony.
But from now on, every mid-level Iraqi ministry official is going to grin when a U.S. diplomat or reporter asks him how his reconstruction and maintenance operations are going. The sharp-tongued deputy will say, "Our parliament's microphones work."
And given the often-bitter congressional critique of the Iraqi government's various failures and faults, the wisecrack is well-deserved.
With their testimony, Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are trying to get it fixed -- help repair and prepare America's politics.
In an article published by The Weekly Standard on July 25, 2005, I wrote: "Al-Qaida's jihadists plotted a multigenerational war. That means we must fight a multi-administration war, which means bridging the whipsaw of the U.S. political cycle. ... The Bush administration has not prepared the nation for that -- at least not in any focused manner. And that omission constitutes negligence. However, Bush critics who advocate withdrawal are even more negligent, for withdrawal without ensuring Iraqi stability is a self-inflicted defeat leading to extremely dire consequences. "
With the Petraeus-Crocker testimony, the Bush administration has finally begun to build that political bridge, albeit in an awkward, belated manner. The administration's Democratic opponents deserve no credit, however. These contemporary practitioners of the paranoid style in American politics have chosen angry theatrics and smear over common sense.
The next six to 12 months will determine if Petraeus and Crocker succeeded. If they do succeed, it will benefit both the Iraqi and American people, and ultimately benefit everyone on the planet who wants a more peaceful and prosperous 21st century.
In the near-term, the Petraeus-Crocker testimony produced two definite political losers: MoveOn.org and Iran. During her initial statement, Rep. Illena Ros-Lehtinen called attention to MoveOn's paid political smear published in The New York Times. The full-page ad featured a picture of Gen. Petraeus and dubbed him "General Betray Us."
The ad is, of course, puerile politics, the ill-considered offspring of MoveOn's Internet rants and the hard left's "new McCarthyism." Remember, the hard lefties rile at Ann Coulter-style attacks that call them traitors, but in their world it's business-as-usual to slur a professional soldier.
MoveOn's ad backfired -- and it was very much part of the testimony. Iran was the international loser. Petraeus' and Crocker's detailed discussion of Iranian malfeasance in Iraq was damning. Petraeus included the following in his prepared remarks: "We have also targeted Shia militia extremists, capturing a number of senior leaders and fighters, as well as the deputy commander of Lebanese Hezbollah Department 2800, the organization created to support the training, arming, funding and, in some cases, direction of the militia extremists by the Iranian Republican Guard Corps' Quds Force. These elements have assassinated and kidnapped Iraqi governmental leaders, killed and wounded our soldiers with advanced explosive devices provided by Iran, and indiscriminately rocketed civilians in the International Zone and elsewhere. It is increasingly apparent to both Coalition and Iraqi leaders that Iran ... seeks to ... fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq."
When asked -- rather snottily -- by Rep. Tom Lantos if the United States would pursue diplomacy with Iran, Crocker replied that he had met with the Iranians and "the conclusion I came away with after a couple of rounds was that the Iranians were only interested in the appearance of discussion, of being seen at the table with the U.S. instead of actually doing serious business."
MoveOn.org will call Crocker a liar, but history will prove the ambassador gave us the unvarnished truth.