Gen. Petraeus faced much tougher questions in the U.S. Senate on his second day of testimony, Tuesday, than he did before the House committees on Monday. The senators, many quite experienced in foreign policy matters, were far less impressed by the general’s reports of modest tactical success on the security front when there was no evidence of political reconciliation. This became more and more apparent as the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, was confronted with a bipartisan grilling. On its own expressed terms of making a political solution in Iraq possible, the “surge” is a failed policy, despite minor (and still disputable) security gains. And Gen. Petraeus’ suggestion to simply stay the course is nothing more than an open-ended commitment to an American occupation in the middle of an Iraqi civil war with no end in sight.
Democratic Senator Joe Biden bluntly stated that the goal of an Iraqi central government that united the Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish factions is simply not possible and that it is “time to turn the corner” on U.S. strategy. Republican Senator (and Vietnam War veteran) Chuck Hagel cited many bleak reports of Iraq by other independent and nonpartisan groups, telling Petraeus, “We’ve got too many disconnects here, General, way too many disconnects.” Hagel demanded an answer to the most basic question about Iraq: “Where is this going?” He pressed Petraeus, “Are we going to continue to invest American blood and treasure at the same rate we’re doing now? For what?”
But the most stunning exchange of the day came on a question from Republican John Warner, one of the Senate’s elder statesmen on military matters. The Chicago Tribune reported:
Warner concluded with a question: “Are you able to say at this time, if we continue what you have laid before the Congress here as a strategy, do you feel that that is making America safer?”
Petraeus said the strategy was the best course for achieving U.S. objectives in Iraq.
“Does that make America safer?” pushed Warner.
Said Petraeus, “Sir, I don’t know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted it out in my own mind.”
Petraeus’ response to one of the most fundamental questions for the American people about the war in Iraq—does this war make us safer?—was “I don’t know.” Every day, young Americans are being asked to risk and give their lives for a policy that the commanding general can’t say is making America safer. Extraordinary.