April 08, 2008

David Petraeus and His Three-Ring Circus

The circus is in town! The circus is in town!

Today, Gen. David Petraeus will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee (step forward, Sens. Clinton and McCain) and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (your turn, Sen. Obama). Several of you dear readers expressed some cynicism about the whole affair, worrying it was just going to be more political theater with people paying more attention to the presidential candidates than the guys who have flown in from Iraq to speak to all of us. We here at Abu Muqawama are shocked -- shocked -- that any of you could be so cynical. Folks, you are about to see American Democracy (TM) in action.

That said, Abu Muqawama will be depressed if this debate polarizes really quickly into the two predictably stupid camps of the pro-Surge crowd who speak of "victory" without ever defining what that word means (and how we're going to get there) and the anti-Surge crowd who can't be bothered to wrap their precious little heads around the military successes of the past year and what that might mean for either a gradual drawdown or some kind of political reconciliation.

The smart people are those who understand what's been done over the past year but still worry about a) long-term political reconciliation and how we get there, b) the needs of the war in Afghanistan and c) the long-term health of the Army and Marine Corps. These are the folks who understand not just tactics but also strategery. We'll see how many of these folks exist in the U.S. Senate. (What's the over/under? Four?)

One thing Abu Muqawama will be looking out for, though, will be talk of Iran. Sen. Lindsey Graham -- who Abu Muqawama likes and admires -- was banging on about the role of Iran on ABC This Week on Sunday, and Abu Muqawama thinks it's a taste of what is to come from some Republican senators. Sen. Jim Webb had a really good response to all of the talk about the role Iran is playing in Iraq, which is that when he was in Vietnam, he fought against people carrying all kinds of Soviet, East European and Chinese arms, and the U.S. never seriously thought about going to war with any of the nations in Eastern Europe or China.

That's a line more Democrats (and saner Republicans) should use. Yes, Iran is causing all kinds of mischief in Iraq and is responsible for the deaths of a lot of American boys, but are you seriously going to argue that we should go to war with Iran because of it. Seriously? In Korea our fighter pilots flew against Soviet pilots, yet we never seriously thought about going to war with the USSR. Also on This Week, George Stephanopoulos (whose last name Abu Muqawama just had to type) helpfully pointed out to Sen. Graham that yes, Iran was supporting the Sadr crew, but they were also supporting the Iraqi government. These nuances were lost, sadly, on Sen. Graham (who has been reading too much Kagan).

The second thing Abu Muqawama is going to look for will be talk about the Iraqis using their oil to pay for their own services rather than letting us foot the bill. These questions came up in the Washington Post's article today:

Among the questions these and other lawmakers said they plan to ask Petraeus and Crocker is why the United States is still paying for Iraqi domestic needs ranging from military training to garbage pickup when the Maliki government has $30 billion in reserves -- held in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Bank for International Settlements in Switzerland -- as well as $10 billion in a development fund, significant budgetary surpluses from previous years and a projected 7 percent economic growth rate for 2008.

Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John W. Warner (Va.), the panel's ranking Republican, who projected that Iraqi oil income would reach $56.4 billion this year, asked the Government Accountability Office last month to investigate how much money the Iraqi government has.

Anyway, it ought to be fun. Grab your popcorn, take a seat, and leave smart-assed messages in the comments section.

Update: Suzanne Goldenberg has a good profile of Petraeus in the Guardian.

Update II: Tom Ricks is live-blogging this whole event, and it is to him that Abu Muqawama will be turning for his instant analysis. The next update you read will probably be from Charlie, crowing about her Jayhawks.