Hillary Clinton’s turn to ask questions came late in this morning’s appearance by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, a reminder of how junior she is in the Senate, notwithstanding that her campaign is based largely on her purported experience. Hillary consumed most of her allotted time by delivering a speech rather than asking questions. Her speech was notable for its defensiveness and for the fact that it ignored the hours of testimony that went before.
First, the defensiveness:
Before I ask you any questions, I just want to respond to some of the statements and suggestions that have been made leading up to this hearing and even during it, that it is irresponsible or demonstrates a lack of leadership to advocate withdrawing troops from Iraq in a responsible and carefully planned withdrawal.
I fundamentally disagree.
Rather, I think it could be fair to say that it might well be irresponsible to continue the policy that has not produced the results that have been promised time and time again at such tremendous cost to our national security and to the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States military.
Next, the obliviousness to what had gone before:
[T]he purpose of the surge, let’s not forget, as described by the Bush administration, was to create the space for the Iraqis to engage in reconciliation and make significant political progress.
However, since General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker last testified in September, even General Petraeus as recently as three and a half weeks ago has acknowledged that the Iraqi government has not made sufficient political progress.
In fact, the morning’s proceedings had been spent largely discussing the very real political progress that has been made since Petraeus and Crocker last addressed these same Senators. Petraeus politely amended Clinton’s incomplete characterization of his comments, which were made to the Washington Post:
First of all, Senator, if I could just comment on the — that Washington Post article, what I said was that no one was satisfied with the progress that had been made, either Iraqi or American, but I then went on and actually ticked off a number of the different areas in which there had been progress and talked about the different laws that Ambassador Crocker has rightly identified in a number of other areas in which, in fact, there’s been progress, although not satisfactory progress, as I mentioned, in the eyes of either Iraqis or Americans.
And so, that was the thrust of what I was getting at there, because there has, indeed, been progress in the political arena and there actually has been progress in a variety of the other arenas, as Ambassador Crocker laid out in his opening statement.
A third aspect of Clinton’s comments should also be noted: the lack of any conclusion. This is how she wrapped up her remarks:
I think it’s time to begin an orderly process of withdrawing our troops, start rebuilding our military and focusing on the challenges posed by Afghanistan, the global terrorist groups and other problems that confront America.
I understand the very difficult dilemma that any policy with respect to Iraq poses to decision-makers. If this were easy or if there were a very clear way forward, we could all perhaps agree on the facts about how to build toward a resolution that is in the best interests of the United States, that would stabilize Iraq and would meet our other challenges around the world.
Of course, troops are already being withdrawn from Iraq, in an orderly way, in response to conditions on the ground. How Clinton’s “orderly process of withdrawing our troops” would differ from what is now underway, she did not explain.
It’s noteworthy too, I guess, that Clinton didn’t call General Petraeus a liar this time. That in itself may signify that the political dynamic on Iraq has changed. Sen. Wicker made a sly reference to Clinton’s performance last time Petraeus and Crocker were in town:
It’s been pointed out by previous questioners the dramatic difference that has occurred in Iraq since the surge began and since you last made your presentation to the Congress.
There’s no question that the situation is better now, it’s better than when the surge began and it’s better than in September. It would take a major suspension of disbelief to conclude otherwise, to conclude that things are not much improved.