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The Petraeus/Crocker Show, Day 2, Part I

gillespie_ed.jpgIt’s “gimme more FUs day.” I’m going to try and liveblog as much of the Petraeus/Crocker Dog and Pony Show and WH-Written Talking Points as I can. Do try to restrain yourself on comments to be kind to the servers and your liveblogger. Thanks!

Today, I’m featuring this lovely photo of WH/GOP message man Ed Gillespie to give him some public credit for manufacturing both the Petraeus and Crocker public talking points and the GOP-caucus strategic coordination as well. Via Open Left:

As if this is not obvious already.

Another new arrival in the West Wing set up a rapid-response PR unit hard-wired into Petraeus’s shop. Ed Gillespie, the new presidential counselor, organized daily conference calls at 7:45 a.m. and again late in the afternoon between the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the U.S. Embassy and military in Baghdad to map out ways of selling the surge.

From the start of the Bush plan, the White House communications office had been blitzing an e-mail list of as many as 5,000 journalists, lawmakers, lobbyists, conservative bloggers, military groups and others with talking points or rebuttals of criticism. Between Jan. 10 and last week, the office put out 94 such documents in various categories — “Myths/Facts” or “Setting the Record Straight” to take issue with negative news articles, and “In Case You Missed It” to distribute positive articles or speeches.

This follows the revelation that Petraeus has had closed door strategy sessions with the Republican caucus, persistent rumors that Petraeus will run for President on the Republican ticket in 2012, and Petraeus’s grad school buddy Michael O’Hanlon at the unaccountable Brookings Institution fomenting a PR offensive to bolster his friend’s image.

In case you were wondering whether they are treating this as an all-out GOP-PR blitz akin to ramping up for an election cycle? Wonder no more — No Quarter has more on the new WHIG. New faces, same old deceptions. Also, don’t miss this piece from Larry at No Quarter on the questions we ought to be asking going forward, a lot of which ought to have been asked well before now.


C-Span1 has coverage for the first part, and then it will switch to C-Span3 once the House goes into session. FYI.

Sen. Biden is gavelling the committee into session. Begins with a moment of silence on 9/11.

SEN. BIDEN: Welcomes Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker. You are here today to give a progress report on Iraq. Gen. Petraeus say the numbers say that the violence is decreasing, and other independent groups say they are not — in my opinion, this misses the point: that there must be a lasting political settlement in Iraq, and that does not currently exist.

Are we any closer to a lasting political settlement in Iraq today than we were six months ago? And if we continue going down this path for another six months, are we going to be any closer then? In my opinion, the answer is no. Biden refers to the Petraeus letter saying that the surge had not worked out as they had hoped. Goes into details on the GAO report saying that things have not gotten better in almost all categories. The Iraqi people are leaving their homes at a rate as high as 100,000 people per month — since the surge.

Until Iraq’s leaders agree to share power peacefully and reach some political reconciliation, there will be no peace in Iraq. Our troops do a job on raw, sheer bravery — but the fact is that when our troops leave an area, they believe that the disruptive forces will return to that area. I have not found a single soldier who believes that is not the case.

In my discussions with Sunni tribal leaders, I didn’t detect any willingness to trust or discuss working with Shi’ite rulers in Baghdad. And vice versa. If every “jihadi” were killed tomorrow, we would still have a political problem in Iraq. We are basing our actions on a flawed strategy — there is no trust in the central government in Baghdad, no trust among the people, and no trust that the government will deliver services effectively. Putting more American lives at risk with very little prospect for success is unconscionable.

It is time to draw down forces in Iraq. Starting to leave Iraq is necessary, but it isn’t enough — we have to help shape what we leave behind, instead of leaving things to a new dictator. Biden pushes a federalist-type strategy of local control and a limited central government, in charge of limited central concerns including distributing Iraq’s oil revenue. Biden recommends a diplomatic surge — including other nations — to help to implement a viable political solution in Iraq. We cannot want peace and security in Iraq more than the Iraqi people want it.

The American military, as you know better than I do, cannot sustain a presence in Iraq at the levels we are now…it is time to turn a corner. We should end a failed strategy in Iraq that cannot succeed, and begin to try and implement one that can.

SEN. LUGAR: Welcomes witnesses to the committee. Lists a number of problems in Iraq, including the fact that the surge has failed to match the intensity and magnitude of problems in Iraq. Although Rice has made some inroads, we have no forum to engage neighbors in the area — every nation around Iraq has intense interest in what is happening there. Yet the group that Rice tried to put together has met only once since May. Diplomatic initiatives have been altogether too sporadic and untended.

Bold and creative regional diplomacy is not just an accompaniment to our efforts in Iraq. It is a precondition to success of any policy. We must repair alliances, recruit more international participants in Iraq, prepare for more regional flow, implement better basing options, and any number of other issues. We cannot just work on guesses in a rapidly evolving international environment.

AMB. CROCKER: Full text of remarks will be put in the record. Begins with summary. Will give you an assessment of diplomatic, economic and military issues in Iraq. I won’t minimize the problems we face, but I will say that we can achieve a secure, stable Iraq at peace with its neighbors. The trajectory is upwards, although the slope of that line will not be steep. [CHS notes: Um…isn’t this yesterday’s speech? See here…this is yesterday’s speech. I’ll pick up the liveblogging once we hit the point that I had to stop yesterday — otherwise, you can pretty much follow along with the exact same words from yesterday.]

…Gains in north and west of Iraq have opened the door to meaningful politics. Al qaeda overplayed its hand in Anbar — and the landscape in Anbar is dramatically different, as a result, as tribal leaders are now working with us. Shi’ia extremeists are also facing a backlash.

One of the key challenges for Iraqis now is to link this provincial progress to the central government. Budget issues — taxation comes through central government, and provincial governments are dependent on central government to finance necessary infrastructure and other loss compensations. Iraq starting to make some gains in the economy — IMF estimates that there will be an app. 6 percent improvement this year. High performers in the budget picture are in the provinces. [CHS notes: read in Kirkuk and the north primarily with the Kurds.]

Many areas in Baghdad only receive two hours a day of power, although hospitals and water pump stations are much better. Work of international compact with Iraq moves forward, with Iraq and UN working on progress for economics and reconstruction. 74 nations have pledged to work on progress under the UNSCR 1770 framework. Many of Iraq’s neighbors understand they have a great interest in the progress in Iraq. Working group on border security and other issues. Another neighbor’s ministerial will be held at the end of October. One of the issues at the last meeting, a permanent secretariat was discussed as being needed (referencing Lugar’s criticism of no continuous effort on this).

Saudis are planning on opening an embassy in Baghdad — first since fall of Saddam. Syria has been more problematic — on one hand, they host a lot of refugees and have interdicted a number of forces trying to cause instability in Iraq. On the other hand, they haven’t caught them all and some factions within Syria have been supportive of disruptive forces.

The involvement and support of the US will continue to be hugely important to influincing a positive outcome — a united country and government by the rule of law. They have not yet realized this vision, and to do so will take more time and patience from the US. I cannot guarantee success — but I do believe that it is attainable. I do believe that curtailing our efforts will cause failure — an Iraq that falls into chaos or civil war would cause substantial problems, not just in Iraq, but also with regional states. Iran would fill any vaccuum in Iraq. Says that should that happen, al qaeda and other terrorist organizations would then gain foothold in Iraq.

Over the coming year, we will continue to increase our civilian efforts outside the controlled zones. The provinces are likely to grow in influence as more power devolves from Baghdad. Progress on this front will take many forms, and must come from the Iraqis themselves.

GEN. PETRAEUS: Reiterates this is his testimony, not that of the WH or someone else. Providing summary of written information provided to committee. [CHS notes: This also looks like a bit of a summarized repeat of yesterday’s testimony — you can read along here. There are a few changes as he goes forward, so I’m going to try and liveblog as much as I can to give you a basis for comparison.]

Though improvements have been uneven across Iraq, the number of incidents has declined in 8 out of the past 12 weeks. Sectarian incidents have also declined, although still at troubling levels. (This is a similar point from yesterday. He’s taken out the references to Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah.)

Still tracking yesterday’s speech on the power competition. Today emphasizing that American forces are trying to do more integration into the communities in which they are serving, rather than staying apart from them — to build trust and more tactical advantage. (CHS notes: He’s speaking much more slowly today, btw — much easier to follow along. Someone gave him a bit of media/public speaking advice last night. Much easier to comprehend and more emphasis on his points today. Just on a stylistic analysis point.)

On the number of Iraqi battalions ready — yesterday was about 90, and today he said about 95. Slight difference there. What was the difference in information from the two days?

“Security While Transitioning: From Leading To Partnering To Overwatch.” — Petraeus says this title of his plan submitted to chain of command summarizes what he thinks should happen. The remainder of the speech tracks yesterday very closely.

SEN. BIDEN QUESTIONS: As you know, the GAO disputes your statistics. Let’s not get into that debate, and let me ask a question: can a Sunni arab travel through Shi’ite neighborhoods without fear of attack? Petraeus says that because the GAO cut their data off about 5 weeks prior to the data that Petraeus showed, and says that makes a significant difference. Biden calls him on the fact that there have been other periods where the violence has reduced over the last four years — we are still talking about over 1,000 attacks a week in Iraq. Let’s get to my question. Petraeus says that it depends on the neighborhood. No question that travel in some neighborhoods is very dangerous. Petraeus says there are still several mixed neighborhoods in southeastern Baghdad, and that it would certainly be possible there.

Biden talks about going to reconstruction conference with Crocker. Grounded in windstorm in helicopter with leaders — they all sat in helicopter for 3 hours because they didn’t dare drive through the particular city they were in to drive to Baghdad. [Didn’t catch the city — did anyone else?] Crocker said that “road movement” back to Baghdad was potentially planned — Biden makes the point that it would have been highly secured, and necessarily so.

In non-diplomatic speak, what exactly do you mean by “it will not be quick” — 2, 3, 5, 10 years? Crocker demures.

Biden gets into what “not quick” means in non-diplomatic speak. Crocker hedges, they go back and forth on success and lack thereof and, ultimately, Crocker says political success in Baghdad won’t come close even by next summer, but we shouldn’t judge them on the criteria that they set up for themselves.

Am going to start a fresh thread…

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com