By Daniel Politi
Posted Wednesday, April 9, 2008, at 6:17 AM ET
The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and USA Today lead with Gen. David Petraeus telling lawmakers that troop withdrawals from Iraq should stop indefinitely this summer. Testifying before two Senate committees alongside Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Petraeus insisted the security situation in Iraq has improved since last year’s buildup of troops but emphasized the gains are “fragile and reversible.” To no one’s surprise, Petraeus advocated for a 45-day pause in troop reductions after the already-planned withdrawal in July as a time for “consolidation and evaluation” and said that only then would commanders begin considering bringing more troops home. Despite repeated questioning from Democrats, Petraeus refused to say what kind of conditions would tip the scales toward further withdrawals and adamantly declined to offer a timetable.
USAT reminds its readers up high that the plan Petraeus put forward yesterday would leave more American troops in Iraq than before the “surge.” After July, there would be approximately 140,000 service members in Iraq, and everyone notes there’s little chance that number will change much before the presidential election. “Withdrawing too many forces too quickly could jeopardize the progress of the past year,” Petraeus said.
Petraeus blamed Iran for much of the continuing unrest due to Tehran’s support of “special groups” (i.e., Shiite militias), which he said now “pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.” The LAT notes Crocker “gave some of the most detailed analysis of Iranian goals in Iraq delivered by a senior U.S. official,” as he pointed out that almost all Shiite factions have some sort of link to Tehran. Crocker characterized it as a “‘Lebanization’ strategy” because it looks similar to the way Iran has backed Hezbollah.
The LAT says that despite all the back-and-forth, Petraeus didn’t really have as much on the line yesterday as he did seven months ago. Back then, it looked like, even if just for a second, impatience with the lack of progress could have pushed lawmakers to support a withdrawal from Iraq. There was no such risk yesterday, which was more of a “confrontation between two immovable forces,” and there’s little mystery as to the outcome since President Bush has made it clear he will support Petraeus’ plan.
Another factor that made yesterday’s hearings different was that much of the focus was not on Petraeus and Crocker but rather on the three presidential contenders who took a break from campaigning to attend the hearings. The NYT notes there were times when the Democratic contenders and the Republican candidate “seemed to be talking about two different wars,” although they all followed a general strategy of trying not to seem “too easy or tough on General Petraeus.” Sen. John McCain was the first to speak and said that calls for a rapid withdrawal are “reckless and irresponsible.” Clinton got a chance to respond a few hours later when she said that it would be “irresponsible to continue the policy that has not produced the results that have been promised time and time again.” Clinton emphasized that “it’s time to begin an orderly process of withdrawing our troops” so the military can focus on other conflicts. For his part, Obama said the reduction in violence hasn’t led to much political reconciliation and argued against setting the bar so high that the appropriate conditions for withdrawal could never be met.
This point made by Obama echoed the frustration of several lawmakers who, as the WP points out in a Page One analysis, expressed exasperation over their inability to get a straight answer to one question: What would constitute the right “conditions” for withdrawal? “The bottom line was that there was no bottom line,” says the Post.