That deep-thinker Michael Goldfarb at the Weekly Standard thinks he has the Leftards foiled again:
But the key point for these folks prior to the hearings was that Petraeus was merely a White House stooge, a politicized general spewing the administration’s talking points. Now that he shows up and behaves exactly as a general should–no opinion on the policy, serious analysis of tactics and strategy–they act as though Petraeus has admitted he doesn’t believe in this war.
You can’t have it both ways. Which is exactly what Fred Kagan explained over the weekend at NRO–commanders in the field have one job: win the war. Their job is not to question the policy and its broader implications, just to win the war.
And how would these folks respond if Petraeus had given some impassioned speech about how Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, and we are fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here, etc. etc.? Instead he acts like a professional, and responds to the question from Warner:
“I don’t know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind.”
The left should be lauding him for this–he diplomatically extricated himself from a question that would have required him to sell the policy of war in Iraq. He balks, and he gets attacked anyway–now he’s not a true believer. Petraeus responded to this question exactly as he should have.
ProTip: If you are four+ years into a war, and it is, at that point, STILL a legitimate question for a Senator to ask whether the war makes us safer, and if you have to ask in the first place, AND THE TOP GENERAL RUNNING THE WAR CAN NOT IMMEDIATELY SAY YES, you have a problem.
Bonus fun: the title of the post by Goldfarb is “Petraeus Shouldn’t Know if Iraq Makes Us Safer.”
Screw it. On to Iran, amirite?
Morning Joe was on while I was eating my breakfast today. They had Christopher Hitchens on the phone, discussing the success of his book, and his mocking of religion bit, which is always good times.
They got onto the subject of Iraq, and it was amazing to watch an otherwise perfectly intelligent person shut his brain off with what can only be described as religious fervor. He defended his pro-war position, saying that he would continue to support the war, even if it was a catastrophe and that those who are against the war, aren’t actually anti-war, but are in fact, on the other side.
It’s as if, in a discussion on the efficacy of prayer, he’d said that he would continue to pray, even if it didn’t do anything to alleviate human suffering, and that those that didn’t pray wanted people to suffer. The irony field was so dense, that it actually materialized into a real pile of bullshit right in front of my eyes.
I dunno – I don’t think it’s particularly telling either way. If Warner had phrased the question differently – “do any of the forces you’re engaging there have the capability of threatening US territory through conventional means” then yes, I’d expect Petraeus to be able to give an assessment about that. But whether the people he’s fighting there are inclined to cross the Atlantic and spread IEDs around Fayetteville if they’re, I don’t know, sitting around on a Sunday afternoon, bored, and there are no Western Devils nearby to take potshots at – that’s more of a CIA thing, really.
Warner could have asked if there were any specific actions being taken by Teh Surge to curtail non-conventional attacks – confiscation of boxcutters, maybe? and Petraeus should have been able to answer that. Warner could have asked if there were any actions the military could take in Iraq to stop, and I’m just pulling this out of the air here, German nationals from mounting a terrorist attack on US installations, and Petraeus should have been able to answer that.
It wasn’t Westmoreland’s job to comment on the Domino Theory, it was only his job to do what the President told him to do. Same for any other General. It isn’t Petraeus’s job to know what US interests are at stake in conducting the mission he’s conducting. His mission is to achieve certain political goals, not to determine whether those political goals are based on some truly fucked up reasoning. That’s Congress’s job and, ultimately, the voters’ responsibility.
Nonsense. they spent the past 48 hours weaving the phrase ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq’ into their testimony at every possible chance, and they can not tell us if the war is making the US safer?
I concur it is not his job to determine whether or not it is, but he should have a fucking idea.
If the fucking Democrats had half a brain, they’d get Adm. Fallon and the JCS to the Hill to testify ASAP, and then the public would hear a totally different story. Instead, they have allowed themselves to be pigeonholed into the Bush Administration’s Petraeus-Savior game, which is, quite frankly, totally useless.
We heard NOTHING over the past two days that is new or different in any way whatsoever. The whole purpose was to show off all of Petraeus’ shiny medals and nothing more.
I wonder if the French would be interested in taking our place in Iraq?
And Gen. Shinseki, and others whose advice has been ignored by the administration. The idea that “I’m followin’ the advice of the commanders on the ground” is completely ludicrous. And the idea that Gen. Petraeus has the math is also silly.
Seemed pretty obvious, God only knows why the Dems didn’t do it.
Right you are, John. Nuke the bastages back to the stone age and see what happens. Who knows, perhaps radioactive fallout will help ameliorate global warming.
On a sad note, one of the GIs who wrote the op-ed in the NYT a few weeks ago has been killed in Iraq.
Some conservatives state that the war on terror is actually World War III or even World War IV.
So let’s do a quick flashback to our last Congressionally declared war:
“General MacArthur; is our war in the Pacific making America safer?”
“I don’t know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind.”
“General Eisenhower; is our war in Europe making America safer?”
“I don’t know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind.”
During his testimony, Petraeus referred to his troops as “America’s new Greatest Generation”. That bit of over the top rhetoric gives a clear insight into how their General sees himself. I see him more as MacArthur than as Eisenhower.
So if Petraeus realized his mistake and then walked back on this later to say “The War is making us safe after all” in clips the right wing blogs are circulating… we shouldn’t listen to him?
Very nice synopsis, John. Four+ years in, and the incompetence of the planners is in plain view for anyone to see. However, no one in government wants to see it, apparently. Even the democrats who were elected to change course. Clearly, we need new and better democrats, and the Party of Torture needs to be disbanded.
Did you guys see Holy Joe Lieberman (the new Zell Miller) asking Petraeus about attacking Iran? Since Dems can’t seem to do anything, with the small majority they have in the Senate, is there still any reason the party doesn’t kick that lying piece of crap out of the caucus?
Let us also not forget that we were watching the Petraeus Dog and Pony Show yesterday, 9/11, interspersed on CNN, Fox, et al with images of the Towers coming down. Just an accident of scheduling, or so I hear, because otherwise I’d have to think that it was amazingly cynical, even for this bunch.
you have proof it wasn’t pointed out to him by a panicked WH staffer ?
This from Hewitt’s interview with the General, from 55 days ago.
Yeah, I’m sure during his four and even five star days Eisenhower would have had a similar tough time answering whether winning against Nazi Germany would make America safer. Known truth.
“The idea that “I’m followin’ the advice of the commaders on the ground” is completely ludicrous”
Not if your “The Decider” and the people of the world won’t recognize your breathtaking vision for the Middle East and the folks who will understand and praise yer genius won’t be born for another 20 years or so.
In such a case “The Decider” can decide if the General he’s got ain’t shovellin’ the shit just right, he can just git himself another’n.
I wasn’t following too closely, but my understanding is that Petraeus actually didn’t provide any insight into the current strategy in Iraq. (The domestic strategy, of course, is to play for time until November, 2008.)
The Other Andrew
I don’t think this surge PR is having the effect they’d hoped for. I think they had three main goals, and I’ll list them from easiest to hardest: shoring up the base, re-selling the media on the war, and convincing the general population. The base is eating it up, the media is giving it airtime but isn’t outright cheerleading (and is occasionally, thank god, skeptical), and the general population is wary of the report, according to every stat I’ve seen. I look to legit moderates like Andrew Sullivan and John himself, and they aren’t convinced, which leads me to believe that other medium- to high-information moderates are resisting it, as well. I’m sure some Lieberman Democrats have been swayed, but this isn’t the sweeping trend that they need to actually maintain the war long-term. So, I can only assume that this is cover-your-tracks time. “We were so very close, but then President Obama messed it all up!”
Place: Congressional Hearing, Washington DC
Sen. Wagner: General Eisenhower, are Allied actions in the European Theater of Operations making the United States safer from Nazi German attacks?
Gen E: Like I would know.
I think that the “Top General” is really ADM Fallon who has Central Command covering both Afghanistan (remember them?) and the Persian Gulf region. GEN Petraeus is there because he is the golden boy of the administration but in reality only about fourth in line. (Can anyone tell me who is in charge of the Afghan side of the war?, of course not.)
His reply was right out of the General’s Handbook: “I fight the war and others make policy.” I am sure he has an opinion, but it is not his place as a serving officer to offer it. Just as it is not ADM Fallon’s place to offer an opinion in a public forum unless asked to do so.
But if you ask ADM Fallon (and the JCS, but they have no command capabilities) I am sure you would get another answer as to why we are there and what we are doing, but you will probably get the same answer to Senator Warner’s question that GEN Petraeus gave.
BTW, General Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander, a five star position that doesn’t even exist any more. The command structure of the armed forces is quite different these days and if you were going to ask someone in a similar position it would be ADM Fallon. GEN Petraeus is more like Mark Clark, a secondary commander.
Oh, bullshit. He was speaking to the elected representatives of the country not a talk-show host. Hugh Hewitt’s radio show is a public forum and there he had plenty to say. read the except I quoted above and tell me that he doesn’t stray into public policy there.
Mikey, if you’d asked any soldier in the U.S. Armed Forces in 1945 — 4 years after the start of WWII — whether U.S. military actions in the Pacific and European theaters were making the U.S. safer from foreign aggression against the United States, they would have looked at you as if you were nuts and said “of course!”. And if you were a Congressman and asked them to testify under oath, they would have said the same thing. Commentary about whether a policy is working or not is not setting policy. It is evaluating the results of policy, and well within the purvey of military personnel. The fact that, four years after we invading Iraq, no military personnel are willing to testify under oath to Congress that the invasion of Iraq has made the U.S. safer, is telling indeed.
I didn’t say that he was not the buttboy of the administration nor is he without an honest opinion, I think that he is just doing his job as he sees it (and he is ambitious and the best way to get ahead is to suck up if you can stand it.)
But you don’t contradict the civilian authority if you are an active duty officer (in fact, when a COL did it during Clinton’s administration, he was fired on the spot and others have been court-martialed by the Bush administration just for suggesting that they were wrong in a public forum. In addition, generals were fired when they opposed Rumsfeld, etc. In each case they were “commenting on public policy.”)
I don’t think that “asking any soldier in WWII” really has relevance in the modern Army. In those days there was a global threat of annihilation by both Japan and Germany, not terroristic acts and if a general defied the constitutional authority of the Commander-In_Chief, he would be fired, just ask McArthur. But as far as I can tell, no one did that because the entire country was on the same page. Generals were fired for incompetence or internal politics, not because they opposed the war or the way it was going. That’s because there was a much greater committment to the war effort on the part of all of us.
GEN Petraeus testimony is clearly a case of best foot forward and I don’t doubt that he was told to look as good as possible by his bosses. And I am sure he is mimimizing the problems and maximizing the good parts of his current campaign.
I didn’t see anyone telling him to his face that they thought he was lying (he probably wasn’t, but he may have shaded the truth) or challenge him to the point that he could not say anything at all. He is a typical polititian general who depends on the president for his office and was approved by Congress for his position. I also don’t think it is his place to answer that question. At the very least it is the SecDef and more likely the president. And we all know Bush is incapable of knowing the truth in this situation. You could ask me (a retired COL) or any retired general officer the same questions and they would be glad to give an opinion, but not when they were actively serving. (And I would agree with you that it is bad policy and the whole war a mistake, an opinion I have held consistently since the beginning.)
I think the problem is that everyone expected pablum and when GEN Petraeus stated that he had no opinion on the question of whether we are safer now (which of course we are not) he answered it as if he were asked a professional opinion. His answer is that he had not studied the question which is a typical way of dealing with these types of questions in his business. Everyone jumped on this as if he stated that we are not safe but in truth he was just avoiding the answer for the second time. Senator Warner may as well asked him: “Do you really think that the president was right in starting this war in the first place and don’t you think he is an idiot for doing so?”
GEN Petraeus is not going to openly answer a question with all that baggage. He needs his job.
I bet General Babtiste needed his job too. He did the honorable thing when an officer feels he can’t toe the company line anymore, he resigned. GEN Petraeus wasn’t testifying about not enough sugar in the Officers Mess, he had a duty to openly answer every question and if he couldn’t, either shut his yapper or resign with honor. 32 dead GI’s and counting this month, they no longer have any baggage to carry.
I’m so embarassed!
I totally know that sometimes it’s OK to compare the current effort in the GWOT with WWII, and I know sometimes it isn’t – but I get totally confused which is which!!! Does this happen to anyone else? Can anyone help me out?
Confused about Comparitors
For 4+ years we’ve been treated to tactics without strategy. We tactically knocked the Taliban out of Afghanistan, without any clear idea of a goal beyond that action. We tactically kicked the Iraqi Army’s behind, and toppled Saddam Hussein from his evil regime, without any clear goal for ourselves or Iraq after the “victory.” “Freedom’s messy” was an acknowledgement that we were “At Play in the Fields of the Lord”
We’ve been repeatedly told that “6 months” from whenever we’ll know what our strategy is. Finally, we were told that this September the Great General Petreaus will tell us all…
…except he doesn’t know what our strategy is, either. He hasn’t stepped back and thought about it. He’s not sure what the result of his tactics will be, because his sole mission is to “make things better’ is detached from a regional or global strategy.
If you can name a single General during WWII whose answer to Warner’s question would have been “I don’t know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind.” I’ll buy you a drink.
Well, for all the negative things that have been said about Sen. Warner, at least he asked the right question — and the right followup question. I suspect that it’s that exchange that will be what people chiefly remember about Petraeus’ testimony — and it should be.
As for Petraeus himself, I’m afraid that his careful skiffle dance (including those multiple ingeniously rigged PowerPoint slides) confirms that, like Colin Powell, he’s a professional porkchopper: a go-along-to-get-along type who is willing to shade the hell out of the truth in order to try and avoid disagreeing TOO clearly with either side. (Two reporters for the McClatchy chain two days ago, in a front-page story for the Sacramento Bee, had a field day revealing the string of carefully calculated half-truths in his testimony — particularly his failure to mention that the death rate in Baghdad is down because, and only because, Baghdad has been pretty completely cleansed of Sunnis by now.) Now, does this make him “General Betray-Us” or not? Rather a judgment call, I’d say.
How would you have answered the question, Michael?
Would you have said something like “it’s not my place to comment on the whether or not the President’s Iraq policy is making America safer; my job is to carry out the policy as best I can.”
If so, why didn’t Petraeus say that?
Seems to me Petraeus’s declining to answer to the question was not because of some nebulous definition of what his “place” is. He declined to answer because he honestly didn’t know the answer.
Joe Klein has now pointed out to Chris Matthews that Petraeus delivered his first, uncertain statement before the hearing’s recess — and then, after the recess, he reversed it at the first possible opportunity, actually breaking into a question on another subject to do so. Klein regards this as evidence that Petraeus got an extremely angry phone call from the White House during the recess. Maybe; or maybe that recess simply gave Petraeus more opportunity to meditate on his own about the possible consequences to his career of sticking his thumb in the Boss’ eye that badly. (Note also that — by the time of his appearance on Fox News — Petraeus was equipped with a positive laundry list of detailed supposed reasons why the Iraq War is good for our security. He must have been doing an AWFUL lot of very detailed strategic thinking during those few hours.)
Honestly, it seemed to me that this was probably the right position for him to have, if poorly phrased. A general’s job is not to decide if a military objective is a good idea or a bad idea for the country– it’s to achieve the objectives he’s been given. That’s why we have civilian control over the military in the first place.
That rather seemed to me to be what he was trying to communicate.
I still think that Warner was asking him to comment on policy, which is out of his purview. Petraeus was, without doubt, giving a political non-answer, nothing like a mistake. Had he said yes, it is making us safer, he’d have been vulnerable to a follow-up question, any information he’d given as part of that follow-up would have been subject to more follow-up… this isn’t like a press fluffing where teh preznit can say “fighting them there so we don’t fight them here” and “spreading democracy” and the press knows they’re not going to get anywhere with more questions but they will lose access, so they just drop it and move on. This is Congress asking a General questions and, if he did say “yes” he’d have been reasonably expected to provide some fairly technical answers as to why. If Warner had been smarter (sigh…) or more determined, he could have asked Petraeus to perform a bit of a mental exploration right then and there, starting with “what are the capabilities of the people you’re fighting there to get to US soil, and in what numbers and with what equipment…”
Of course, he could have said “no,” which the wingnuts often do admit to in roundabout ways, but only because it gives them the opportunity to call war opponents “selfish” for not wanting to spend other people’s lives only in defense of the country.
Goldfarb’s putting about the best spin on this that he can, and his assertion that Petraeus, by virtue of that one shirking, is being non-political is an enormous pile of shit. As you said, Petraeus pushed the “Al Qaeda in Iraq” meme pretty hard. The reports from people who have worked with him are flying pretty thick that the guy’s a total showboater and a political animal, and beyond doubt he’s one of the few generals who is saying what the president wants to hear at the moment.
What really worries me isn’t the character of one particular General, what worries me is that I have no idea right now what the objective in Iraq really is (is there a quota of Wal-Mart and McDonalds openings that has to be met for the victory of Our Way of Life to be achieved?) There is, at present, a constitutional government in Iraq, albeit one in crisis, so creating a constitutional government isn’t our goal. And the shaking out of a constitution seems to me to be something that only becomes more difficult with a foreign army on one’s soil. And what puts this whole thing over the top is that we’re becoming horribly vulnerable because of it – the Army is breaking.
So Petraeus’ testimony – blah. Who cares, we all knew what he was going to say. It’s Pace’s testimony that’s going to make your hair stand on end.