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The Petraeus/Crocker Show, Day 2, Part III

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 (via CNN) 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. (emphasis mine)

Dodge and phony show indeed. This is the WHIG strategy…again.


SEN. COLEMAN QUESTIONS: Begins with the Gillespie/GOP wurlitzer talking point. [CHS notes: Does the man ever speak without inserting someone else’s talking points into his mouth?] Coleman talking about his trip to Ramadi and talking with the mayor there who wants to build a resort area as a long-term vision while his buildings are riddled with bullets. Al qaeda…blah blah blah…scary. We don’t have any objective measures of progress. Do you have any? Americans want to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Gosh, your troop drawdown discussion is swell, but because troops are still going to get killed and my constituents don’t like that, what sorts of talking points can you give me to reassure them? [CHS notes: I’m paraphrasing here…but you get the point.] Crocker says we need to look at processes, not just numbers — benchmarks are potentially a misleading indicator, because he believes that the Iraqis could hit all the benchmarks and still not have any national reconciliation.

He does think that there is potential to see some progress in the months ahead. Is the central government able to increase its ability to support efforts for reconstruction and rebuilding and are provinces able to execute these plans to the benefit of the people who live in their areas? That presupposes that levels of violence go down and stay down even further. This has been an ethno-sectarian competition for power and resources. The question, ultimately, is whether under changing conditions that competition translates into a political competition as opposed to a street fight. Also, would look at the militias: is the central government, with our help where needed, able to begin taking apart the militias? Says there is some hint of a popular backlash against a single commander. Those are interlinked areas that Crocker will be watching moving forward. And there are subpoints: population displacements, they have slowed but haven’t stopped — and this needs to be reversed.

Petraeus says that he agrees with Coleman’s assessment of al qaeda Iraq — that they are off-balance, but still very dangerous and trying to re-ignite sectarian violence, with acts like bombing the Golden Dome mosque. Inter-sectarian religious intervention, standing together and calling for calm, prevented ignition of further problems in the recent attacks on the minarets there. They remain a very dangerous and adaptable foe that wants to retain sanctuary in Iraq. The stairstep reduction planning reflects how we would like this to play out — both in terms of reducing forces over time from protection, to helping, to handing off control altogether.

SEN. FEINGOLD QUESTIONS: Thanks witnesses. Thanks for your service and the conversations on strategy and tactics. It is simply tragic that the broader context of our conflict with terrorism outside Iraq has been altogether, and inappropriately, ignored in this hearing. And Iraq has been a substantial distraction — our attention and resources have been focused on Iraq, and al qaeda has been focused on building a stronghold in Pakistan, and reconstituting its hold on areas of Afghanistan, raising substantial funds, and recruiting. The Bush Administration has repeatedly called Iraq the central front in the war on terror — this is simply incorrect. AQI may give AQ some reach, but it is simply inaccurate to say that AQ isn’t operating. Sen. Hagel mentioned Syria and Iran — what about Africa? There were two bombs there last week that were virtually unnoticed here in the US.

Do you believe that the US is providing sufficient resources to deal with al qaeda outside Iraq — specifically Mahgreb? Crocker says that’s outside his portfolio. Feingold asks which is more important — the Pakistani AQ issue or Iraq? Crocker says while he was Amb. to Pakistan, the people needed to deal with that situation were not available because they were working on Iraq. Crocker dodges which prioritization is more important. Feingold goes to Petraeus — Petreaus says that he isn’t in a position to talk about resources committed elsewhere, the briefings that he gets on this issue focus more on how AQ central’s information affects their Iraq operations. Says that Iraq has been a focus, but that may be changing.

The allocation of resources questions need to be addressed. This is the myopia of Iraq. When will the overall level of American troop deaths start to decline in Iraq? Petraeus goes back to the initial question. Feingold says that this is the most critical hearing we have had, and it is focused solely on Iraq — not the broader context of overall strategy or lack thereof. Petraeus says that in August, they suffered a number of non-combat deaths because of helicopter accident. Feingold calls BS — the number of troop deaths in every single month this year is higher than the troop deaths that occurred in the same months last year. And Feingold says he is not getting adequate answers on this.

SEN. CORKER QUESTIONS: Again, starts with the Wurlitzer talking point. We tend to look at governing in Iraq as being less difficult here — and yet we have issues here that we haven’t been able to deal with for generations. Crocker says that he thinks we need to be very careful with the fact that we may change our posture, and the Iraqis know that – and they also know that they will be there forever. I am concerned with an approach that says we’re going to start pulling troops regardless of the consequences on the ground — that this would make them less willing to compromise and push them in the wrong direction, toward more sectarian fighting, not less. The Iraqis are aware that the patience of the American public is not limitless — and this has been a helpful prod to the Iraqi leadership this summer. Petraeus says he shares Crocker’s view. We have taken tactical steps — we can critically stop working with certain elements of the Iraqi forces, or elements, etc., because of investigations or other information (points to major crimes unit abusing detainees and the loss of American support as a result). When it comes to the level of national legislation, that is an awfully difficult question up front.

Working with leaders in Iraq to try and achieve some reconciliation. But the idea of threatening to withdraw may actually harden something that we are trying to soften. Corker asks about the troop drawdown being predicated on the Iraqi military stepping up. Petraeus says there is progress, but it happens unevenly in fits and starts. Talks about moving Anbar forces to adjecent provinces as events on the ground warranted it — as an example of day to day tactical adjustments.

SEN. BOXER QUESTIONS: Thanks for your service. Says she gets letter after letter on how long we’ll be in Iraq. Boxer says that this war is the biggest foreign policy mistake ever — it took our eye off the al qaeda ball, our national guard is substantially strained with manpower and equipment shortfalls, we have lost far too much. We have also lost the support of the world — we had that support after 9/11 and we squandered it. Boxer goes back to an early meeting with Petraeus in Iraq (in 2005?) — you told me that we were going to have some great Iraqi forces ready to go shortly, puts Petraeus documentation into the record from then. That’s what the Brits have done — they have redeployed to the perimeter. Boxer says that she went to London last week and had foreign policy meetings — 90 percent of the violence for Brits was coming because their presence was inciting violence because they were seen as occupiers by the Iraqis. You said in 2003 that we wanted to be seen as liberators, not occupiers — that there is a shelf life on the welcome for us. References the op-ed in the NYTimes that Hagel highlighted — that we are considered an army of occupation.

I think we need to look at reality. The independent general’s report says that you are cherry-picking your numbers. Gen. Casey says that the surge says that this is only a temporary tactical effect. The Iraqis are saying that their children’s lives will not be better than their own — that the surge is making matters worse. The President is the commander in chief — he said mission accomplished, and thousands of our own died. Since he said in Australia that we are kicking ass in Iraq, in six days since then we lost 28 soldiers. Who wants to keep this course? Not the Iraqis, not the American people, not the majority of the members of Congress…cites stats on public opinion here and in Iraq. We are in the middle of a civil war, in the middle of the mother of all mistakes.

Son’t do what you did in 2004, when you painted a rosy scenario in an op-ed, or what you did in 2005 with us and your rosy forecast…consider that you might be wrong. Don Rumsfeld said that this war would last no longer than 6 months. How long is this going to take — it has drained resources and lives, how much more?

SEN. SUNUNU QUESTIONS: Thanks both witnesses for their decades of service. A simple concern is the specific institutions, resources, etc., that will be required if progress at the local level is going to be sustained once withdrawals are completed? Crocker says that ensuring that local developments relate to the center in ways that local folks agree are beneficial to larger interests. Insuring that there is an appropriate connection between central initiatives and the local government actions. We have moved from major infrastructure projects to a focus on capacity building, and we have additional people coming out to assist that effort at the federal level. [CHS notes: Sununu looking at him with that “stop the diplomatic speak” kind of look.] All the reconstruction teams are embedded with military units, and we have continued that to the local level — and we now have quick response funds to supplement construction funds, and we are trying to complement and not compete with local initiatives. Provincial governance is new in Iraq. It did not exist in any meaningful way under Saddam, and didn’t really exist prior to that either. Sununu: With regard to your testimony, you mentioned $10 billion in potential expenditures, what confidence level do you have that this money is going to be used effectively for good projects? Crocker says that there are a number of mechanisms and measure that the Iraqis have in place to monitor waste, fraud and mismangement. Sununu asks if they really work. Crocker says “to a degree.” Perhaps the most effective check on this is the healthy watchfulness between the center and the provinces. [CHS notes: Oh, look, balance of powers and internal checks, balances and accountability. Remember when we used to respect that, too?]

What factors are you going to look at for mid-March and how might they be different from the ones you talk about today? Petraeus says that the ones he talked about today will still apply then. Petraeus highlights the need for political evaluation.

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