I’m not able to watch the hearings here in Paris, so I’ve only been able to read their prepared statements which are up now on the Senate Armed Services Committee website (Amb. Crocker here, Gen. Petraeus here). But based on that, I’ve got to agree with Andrew Sullivan: both Gen. Petraeus’ and Ambassador Crocker’s testimony seem to reflect an effort at intellectual honesty that surpasses that of most of the shrill din surrounding them.
There’s still the possibility that a few days of high-pressure questioning might produce the kind of political theater that definitively shifts public opinion, but besides that, I’m not sure what these hearings can really accomplish. Again, I’m across the pond here in Paris, but from afar, it seems that between the two extremes of “Iraq forever” and “Get out now” lies the vast majority of Americans who are simply trying to make sense of a situation that seems increasingly difficult to extricate ourselves from by the day. Unlike forty years ago, though, when we were a nation divided, today we are a nation increasingly hemmed in.
There’s nothing unreasonable about Gen. Petraeus’ recommendations — a 45-day freeze following the final Surge brigade drawdown to consolidate the “reversible gains” already made — were it not for the fact that those gains seem too ephemeral to ever really consolidate. Which means six months from now, we’re likely to find ourselves locked on the horns of this very same dilemma: if we stay, things are unlikely to get better, and if we go they’re likely to get worse.
There’s also nothing unreasonable about Ambassador Crocker’s emphasis on establishing a longterm status of forces arrangement with the Iraqi government for when the current U.N. mandate expires in December. Crocker stipulated that the agreement would be non-binding on a future American president. And yet, the status quo has a measure of inertial weight that sometimes becomes hard to displace.
Crocker made reference to a diplomatic surge over the course of the past year which, frankly, seems to have passed under the radar. If there’s one thing missing from the mainstream debate that was present in most of the expert testimony presented to Congress, though, it’s the need to widen the diplomatic fora for stabilizing Iraq. We need to bring in some fresh air, not to feed the fire, but to clear our thoughts. We’ve been locked into the illogic of our Iraq policy for so long now that we’ve lost sight of the fact that you can’t solve a problem that you’ve become part of. That’s the only way I can see to make the “recommendations” (if we were honest with ourselves, we’d call them what they are: policy decisions) Gen. Petraeus made today palatable.