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Petraeus and the Next President's Burden


Obama at the morning hearing. (AP).

This week's testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker may turn out to be an important turning point in the debate over Iraq policy, though not necessarily in the ways envisioned just a few months ago.

Petraeus's recommendation to begin a modest withdrawal of troops immediately changes the debate in at least one important way that bows in the direction of the Democrats. The issue is no longer one of whether or not to withdraw from Iraq; it is at what pace and under what conditions.

But what once was seen as a moment that could create the political momentum behind the start of a significant withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq may in fact be the point at which the reality set in that the ultimate exit strategy will be left to President Bush's successor to design and implement. That will inevitably increase the importance of the debate among the presidential candidates in both parties.

The timeline Petraeus laid out in his testimony falls far short of what Bush's opponents have been demanding. In fact, it points to a long and extended deployment there. Unless Congress finds the will and the way to force the president to move in a direction he has steadfastly refused, there will still be 130,000 troops in Iraq by this time next year -- roughly the same number as were there after the 2006 elections.

That carries significant implications for the Democratic leaders in Congress, who so far have failed to force Bush into a significant course correction despite their new majorities in the House and Senate, and ultimately for the presidential candidates, one of which will inherit this problem. As some Democrats have suggested, the administration is now positioned to run out the clock over the next 17 months and turn the future of Iraq over to someone else.

The most immediate impact of the Petraeus-Crocker testimony will be to raise the stakes for those Democratic leaders, who have pressed repeatedly to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and have sought to use public opinion to pressure Republicans to join them.

Petraeus's descriptions of military progress as a result of the surge -- however much they have been disputed by other independent analysts -- and the warnings he and Crocker have put forth about the catastrophic consequences of a more precipitous withdrawal will give even the most nervous Republicans pause as they contemplate whether to break with the president.

That leaves Senate Democratic leaders with a clear dilemma as they chart the next phase of the congressional debate. Do they continue to press for a rapid removal of troops and a timetable for completing that withdrawal, satisfying the sizeable antiwar sentiment within their party, or do they look for something less explicit that might be able to attract enough support from Republicans to send a signal of bipartisan disapproval of the president's policy?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others have indicated their interest in a compromise with the Republicans. Joe Biden, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing at which Petraeus and Crocker appeared this morning, has pushed for finding common cause with Republicans. There are some leading Republicans, such as Richard Lugar, John Warner and Chuck Hagel, who could be part of that bipartisan approach.

But any shift in Democratic strategy in the Senate risks sparking a major eruption on the Democratic left, particularly among the grass-roots activists, which will spill over into the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Chris Dodd's campaign has already challenged Barack Obama for stopping short of pledging to support a timetable for completing the withdrawal of forces in his initial reaction to the Petraeus testimony.

Hillary Clinton has been a reluctant supporter of a fixed timetable for completing troop withdrawals and will be forced again to balance legislative and campaign strategy over the next few months.

John Edwards continues to up the ante on his rivals who serve in the Senate by insisting that Congress continue trying to force Bush to accept a timetable for getting out as a price for continued funding of the troops. Bill Richardson, in increasingly pointed language, has taken issue with the other candidates by demanding the speedy and complete withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Republicans candidates have shown little interest in charting a course separate from the president on Iraq. The more it becomes clear that the next president will inherit the mess there, the more the pressure will increase for them to explain more clearly what they would do. Only John McCain has built his candidacy around Iraq. Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and others will be challenged to say more than simply stay the course.

The effect of the Petraeus and Crocker testimony is to remind everyone that Iraq will remain the central issue throughout the 2008 campaign. As the primaries and caucuses approach, the volume of the debate will continue to rise. But voters likely will be measuring the candidates not strictly in terms of the heat of their rhetoric but in their prescriptions for the future of Iraq policy and their readiness to oversee that policy as commander in chief.

-- Dan Balz

By Post Editor  |  September 11, 2007; 1:05 PM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , Dan Balz's Take  
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Comments

I like that headline.

With that picture.

Posted by: chi_girl_88 | September 11, 2007 10:54 PM | Report abuse

Petraeus and Crocker couldn't answer the hard question, particularly Sen. Hagel's questions. If Bush's key operatives can answer a simply "what are we doing in Iraq" question, then there is something very wrong.

Bush's IRAQ strategy, if it can called that, is an exercise in vanity, nothing more.

Congress, particularly the House, has the power to change this. It doesn't require legislation - just a refusal to legislate -- unless Bush comes up with an acceptable strategy for withdrawal phased in a way which will minimize the chances of a meltdown in Iraq.

The real issue is whether the Democratic leadership in the House has the guts TO SIMPLY DO NOTHING: to take the President's allowance away until he comes with a more responsible course of action.

Posted by: mnjam | September 11, 2007 10:21 PM | Report abuse

Bush has never had the moral courage to admit a mistake and he lacks to the ability to speak clearly to the public. It is beginning to appear that he feels that we will be in Iraq for another seven to ten years. But to say this to the public would risk a harsh counter movement to get out. Thus he will stall to the end and spread the historical scorn for this war onto his sucessor. Remember, he has no political heir so he only needs to save himself from the judgement of history. Expect more rolling justifications ("This is a relief mission" for example) more bumper stickers like "we fight them over there so that we don't have to fight them over here" as if all the terrorists of the world are lining up in Iraq so we can shoot them there, and expect more "onward to victory" even though he can't define victory

Posted by: Waterloo1 | September 11, 2007 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Dan Balz's take will never be anything more than an idealogical diatribe. Thanks Dan, for confirming that Democrats should still force a pull out of Iraq-even if it means undermining the US military and the country as a whole when things appear to be improving. Why should we expect the next President to be able to face tough issues such as leading the counrty through wartime? Your fear is that the country might actually need LEADERSHIP if we remain in a situation of conflict. If this is the case, don't call on anyone in the Democrat's field of candidates.

Posted by: Digitalman08 | September 11, 2007 9:29 PM | Report abuse


Of course, Bush is going to leave the mess for the next president. To do otherwise would require him to admit mistakes and stupidity. As an egomanic he can do neither, so he keeps building fantasies and lies to feed his delusions that a "win" in Iraq is possible.

After he hands over the mess, he will then claim all the problems are the cause of his successor. An egomanic always blames others for his own faults and problems he creates.

He apppoint General Pet because he need time, and General Pet will take time to fail. Meantime more hundreds of billions waste, more killed, more maimed, and more destruction of our Army and Marines.

Cowardly Bushidiots keep cheering on the war they are too chicken to fight. They post "heroic" slogans and hide under their beds while others take the risks and do the dying.

Moronic GOP Congresspersons continue to support a dememted delusionsal Bush because he is a Republican.

For anyone who believes that Generals don't lie have forgotten the friendly fire death of Tillman in Afghanistan. Generals lie just like anyone else -- just like the GOP Congresspersons defending General Pet's "honor".

Posted by: wj_phillips | September 11, 2007 8:56 PM | Report abuse

Having voted for Gore/Lieberman in 2000, listening to the Senator today was frightening. According to the Senator, Iran is the cause of all the problems in Iraq and we should take action against them immediately. I wonder if we should do this before or after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement?

Posted by: sgre144 | September 11, 2007 8:33 PM | Report abuse

Mr Bush and his administration doesn't have the will to make the difficult decisions regarding this misbegotten war they started. If analysis of their actions is correct, and they leave the hard choices to the next president, it is incumbent upon the leaders of Congress to object to their plans. Consider the 17 months to January 2009 - multiply the number of these months by the estimated number of troop casualties likely to occur in this time; consider also 17 months at 2-3billion dollars a month; consider also the ill-will engendered by this waste - and the lack of leadership and courage to make these hard decisions. In essence, Mr Bush has given up and will leave it to his successor to exit the war "in defeat", in hopes of somehow salvaging his legacy. In my opinion, however, the legacy Mr. Bush will leave behind will be the 17 months of neglect. Congress should find a way to get Mr Bush to face up to his responsibilities and lessen our losses in this fiasco.

Posted by: jbleenyc | September 11, 2007 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Oh, of course wars are always America's fault.

Never the fault of expansionist communist or Islamic fanatics. They are simply victims that are "forced" to slaughter innocents because of America.

The twisting of common sense by the liberal mind never ceases to amaze.

Posted by: ikez78 | September 11, 2007 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Looks like we'll have to "stay the course...until the job gets done," all right! George Bush 41 ought to run for President again with perhaps Petraeus as his VP. Bush 43 can be named Secretary of State "until the job gets done." Dick Cheney can be moved over to National Security Adviser. Comments?

Posted by: filoporquequilo | September 11, 2007 7:59 PM | Report abuse

$12-15 Trillion TraCurrent Accounts deficit
An eroding infrasturcture
An eroding tax base
More unemployment, and the consequence: crime
A war for a neocon dream, created from the ashes of 9-11, an event that nearly everything that could be done to let happened was done:
Take Terrorism off FBI priority list
Take Air Marshalls off planes
Quash six FBI field office investigations
etc. Most of the people involved in letting 9-11 got medals or bonuses. Agencies to blame got bigger budgets and more power.
How America could let 19 towel heads turn the country upside down is what this president did. Let's hope the next president doesn't have megalomania and fascist dreams.

Posted by: wayoffbaseguy | September 11, 2007 7:21 PM | Report abuse

George Bush never intended to win his Iraqi War. He never tried to use the total power of the US as it was used during WWII. The only folks who were required to sacrifice (other than the Iraqis of course) was our volunteer military force and their families.

Posted by: Thependulumswings | September 11, 2007 7:05 PM | Report abuse

General Petraeus, White House, Media and now Americans are willing to let thousands more soldiers die based on lies and greed for oil. As 98 per cent of Iraqis want the US out our only hope is that Iran/Iraq get together and kick the US out of Iraq. As the Iraq leaders have said as long as the White House keeps giving money it's ok but when the money stops the US must go.

Posted by: qqbDEyZW | September 11, 2007 7:00 PM | Report abuse

That it has come to this...an immature, incurious, uninformed and unelected president engages the US in the worst foreign policy mistake in our country's history, and NOW admits that he cannot "fix" it and will leave it to another to correct.
I truly hope that in '08 Americans consider their obligation to elect someone who is intelligent and thoughtful enough to undo the damage inflicted both on Iraq and THIS country by George Bush.

Posted by: smeesq | September 11, 2007 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the next President will have been honestly elected, perhaps he will choose to represent Americans other than wealthy and oil barons, perhaps he will treat Israel as the real enemy, with their spying and draining our taxes to aid their murder of civilians, perhaps he or she will turn the neocons over to the Hague along with Petraeus for proper condemnation and possibly victims of the Bush tortures, perhaps he or she will envision providing healthcare to all Americans, not just the residents of the Marshall Islands, as provided by the US Navy, perhaps our taxes will once again be applied fairly to the middle class, perhaps he or she will find a way to manufacture in America, not just in Republican owned sweat shops in China and India and Vietnam. Perhaps is a BIG word, but look at what a mess we are in today, we support wealth and its unfair growth, the people of Iraq over the people of the USA, the oil companies over all others. All this from a bunch of Republican supporters of spending, pedophiles, gay lifestyles, lying and support for a man for whom Reagan, in his diaries describes GW as useless.

Posted by: 274627 | September 11, 2007 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Iraq is just one aspect of the Middle East and the U.S. (Cheney as surogate for Big Oil) has decided to establish our PERMANENT PRESENCE in this region in whatever manner we can. WE WILL NOT BE LEAVING IRAQ! Therefore talk about any withdrawal is just hoodwinking Congress and the 2008 voters. AND the U.S. will establish itself anywhere we can in surrounding countries. OUR AIM: control as much oil as we can to compete favorably with China, India, Japan and Russia in the 21st Century. 2008 CANDIDATES: The nominees will be the two persons that are acceptable to KISSINGER, BUSH I, BAKER, the NEOCONS, the CARLYLE GROUP and BIG OIL.

Posted by: hutch21934 | September 11, 2007 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Just divide the country into THREE parts, impose an oil dollar sharing plan, declare "victory" and get out.

Big concrete fences should work and just let OPEC supervise the money......"mission accomplished" (sorry, we did that several years ago, didn't we? By the way, who has that banner at the present time - the Smithsonian?)

Posted by: DC12 | September 11, 2007 6:33 PM | Report abuse


The cowardly act of an uderwhelming presence in the White House. He will be known as the undecider.

Posted by: kchcloc | September 11, 2007 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Does"nt anyone see what the islamists are saying to us? They want to destroy us. They say so twice a month. Yet you would rather vilify our courageous President for holding the fort. They rocket Israeli cities daily, plots abound. We have to be right every time- they only have to get lucky once or goodbye Boston or L.A. Of course, we certainly would not want to offend those who have sworn to kill your children would we? Oh no! So anti -PC! You prikks make me sick.

Posted by: jaimielpn | September 11, 2007 6:13 PM | Report abuse

The most pressing question of all; Who will be the last soldier killed in Iraq? The sooner we leave, the sooner we will answer this question. I want to know the name of this soldier. I only pray that he or she is named very very soon. Impeach Bush and Cheney.

Posted by: looken | September 11, 2007 6:04 PM | Report abuse

computer1 posted:


Absolute_0-K | September 11, 2007 03:14 PM
.
I forwarded a copy of your post to the US Secret Service.

Posted by: computer1 | September 11, 2007 03:53 PM
------------------------------------
what can one say,
Absolute_0-K, other than you're an a-h !!

Posted by: imiga | September 11, 2007 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Yes, didn't we already know that the bush/cheney strategy was to push this calamitous, most disastrous mistake in US history on to our next president so that the bush/cheney cabal can blame all the consequences of their monstrous lack of experienced and intelligent governance onto somebody else...........

Posted by: imiga | September 11, 2007 4:50 PM | Report abuse

You're wrong. I wish you weren't, becasue I have a son in Iraq and I want him home, but you're wrong. Iraq wont evenbear menioning by the time the next election comes around. The #1 issue will be the economy, all of the jobs lost, legal and illegal guest workers, and a "recession" that will make anything we have experienced since 1929 look downright modest. Globalization and the illusions of the greedy few supporting it, corporate excesses and government toleration of them, even when outright fraud was used to sell people home loans that were purposefully designed to fleese people out of their savings, bought and paid for politician's like Clinton, Guliani, Richardson, Kennedy, Romney, and a whole host of other self serving parasitical crooks. THOSE, all of this will be THE issues in the 2008 election.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | September 11, 2007 4:49 PM | Report abuse

It is so sad to know that hundreds more American troops will die between now and next summer and we will still be in the same situation in Iraq. And the politicians seem to be unwilling or unable to do a thing about it.

Posted by: mkb2 | September 11, 2007 4:36 PM | Report abuse

The security accomplished in Al Anbar Province (adjacent to Saudi Arabia's border) was not due to the surge, but self preservation on the part of the Sunni population in that particular province of 5% of the Iraqi population.

The Al Q insurgents were just too fanatical for the locals and hence approached US forces to assist them..which they did with weapons, information, uniforms and some commo-plus squad size units to interface with the former Sunni insurgents on a day to day basis.

Again, this was not due to the surge..but foundational in General P's presentation today and yesterday. He remarked a number of time about Al Anbar-however, no one mentioned the four (4) Marines killed in Al Anbar Province in the last 36 hours.

The concept or idealogy that "from the ground up" reconcilation will be the savior to the Iraqi political reconcilation challenge..is just plain foolish. The Sunni population in Al Anbar are using us..just as we are using them

The Sunni's know Iraq is 60% Shia..and they know eventually, the Americans will leave..and they know, the Shia's will attempt to ethnically cleanse all Sunni's from Shia "territory". This will happen regardless, unfortunately-unless the Shia powers mediate in some way to reconcile along territorial bounds.

The Senate did well in finding where logic did not prevail; they also proved that there is a possibility..a real possibility that US forces could be in Iraq as long as we were in Bosnia...over 10 years.

That scenario will not and cannot happen and Congress must move forward to begin the process of withdrawl. Bush et al intentions is simply to forestall a withdrawl until he leaves office whereupon Bush can "poke" at the other side in his well paid speaking engagements..as Bush mentioned recently throught the new book..about making more money.

LTC, USA

Posted by: negotiator6 | September 11, 2007 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Good chance Bush will draw down more than 30K troops by summer. Look for a January announcement just before the February 5th primary.

Al-Qaeda and Sadr may be understanding that the best way to get US "mostly" out of Iraq is PEACE. The Shias have taken over as much of Baghdad as they could and now they must have peace to get America out and to keep their faithful believing in them.

Look for US troops to be moved to the borders over the next 9 months.

Posted by: donbl | September 11, 2007 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Absolute_0-K | September 11, 2007 03:14 PM
.
I forwarded a copy of your post to the US Secret Service.

Posted by: computer1 | September 11, 2007 3:53 PM | Report abuse

After the '06 Mid-Term Elections Bush said that there would be no withdrawal as long as he is president. That leaves two options and it doesn't look like impeachment is going to happen.

Posted by: Absolute_0-K | September 11, 2007 3:14 PM | Report abuse

is beyond time to shut off funding for this war and bring the troops home. We all knew this report card so to speak was going to be no more than stay the course in Iraq.

There government refuses to work for the good of all their people, and our young men and women are dying for them. If Iraq is so important to Iraq then why aren;t they fighting for it, why does their government refuse to work for them as a country?????

We are bring our troops home. In Body Bags everyday. will Bush and his tin General count them as part of their troop reduction?????

We have no business in the middle of a civil war in Iraq. That is something fore them to fight out. We have no business rebuilding Iraq, only to have them blow it back up....

It time for business as usual in washington to change. Bush and Chaney can go over there and fight for their own damn oil...BRING OUR TROOPS HOME AND ALIVE. GET OUT OF IRAQ...CONGRESS AND SENATE SHOULD STOP ALL FUNDING FOR THIS WAR....END IT NOW.......

Posted by: Judith1 | September 11, 2007 3:01 PM | Report abuse

One Republican begs to differ from the decider. Ron Paul, the best Republican running and if he wins the Republican nomination, I just might vote for him.

Posted by: msmith46 | September 11, 2007 3:00 PM | Report abuse

It seems as though JOHN'the-fraud'KERRY, or rather SENATURD JOHN'the-fraud'KERRY is comparing IRAQ to his adventures in VIETNAM. Fine isn't it about time you explain how you were supposedly awarded a BRONZE STAR with a 'V' for VALOUR - when no such decoration was authorized for the VIETNAM CONFLICT??? Could you also explain as a member of a veterans group in BOSTON, MA.; 'magically' a story by one of the veteran's of that group became yours and was the basis for your C.I.A. tales during your less than 90 day tour of VIETNAM??? NOW IS INDEED THE TIME FOR ANSWERS FROM YOU SENATURD KERRY - HOW ABOUT IT???

Posted by: ZyskandarAJaimot | September 11, 2007 2:56 PM | Report abuse

It's disheartening that the Democrats are put in such an untenable position. The right thing to do, and what Americans want, in the end is not supported by Americans when push comes to shove. Americans are rhetorically strong in their opposition to the Iraqi debacle, yet are cowardly timid to do what is required and get out.

Posted by: HillRat | September 11, 2007 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Of course. What else do you expect from an over-his-head frat boy who has not had one day of accountability in his entire life? He has said from the beginning that we wouldn't leave until he leaves office.

He made sure this would be so by appointing loyal lap dogs who will unquestioningly tow the line, regardless of the exaggerations, misrepresentations and outright lies required to do so, or the damage it would do to the military.

The plan has always been to pass this diarrheic mess onto the next president.

What a disgrace to this country.

Posted by: vze2r3k5 | September 11, 2007 2:17 PM | Report abuse

The next President will have to clean up the mess made by our current reckless and ill-informed president. Amb. Crocker gave the more credible testimony and he didn't sound very positive at all. We broke Iraq and we are responsible for helping to fix it. I just hope, at the same time, those responsible for the debacle will be held to account.

Posted by: thebobbob | September 11, 2007 2:15 PM | Report abuse

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