When John Kerry stopped by Barack Obama's chair during today's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq, the news photographers in the room couldn't resist the moment. They turned away from Gen. David Petraeus and, in an explosion of shutter clicks, captured a conversation between presidential candidates past and present.
What did the two discuss? We don't know. But when it came time for Obama to put questions to Petraeus and ambassador Ryan Crocker, the junior senator from Illinois was ready with a speech instead. The performance of the troops? "Outstanding." Petraeus and Crocker? "Doing the absolutely best that you can given an extraordinarily difficult situation." But as soon as he said those words, Obama complained that the mission on which Petraeus and Crocker have been sent is nearly impossible, and that they've "punted" each time they've been asked about the larger strategy they're implementing.
Obama said the Petraeus/Crocker hearing should not have been scheduled on "9/11, 9/10 or 9/12" because having it so close to the sixth anniversary "perpetuates the notion that somehow the original decision to go into Iraq was somehow directly related to the attacks of 9/11." He said that if the American people had known the truth about the war from the beginning -- the time it would take, the money it would cost, the lives it would claim, the damage it would do to America's strategic interests -- they would have declared it a "bad deal" from the start.
And now? Obama said that "we've set the bar so low" that getting back to the "intolerable" levels of violence that we saw back in the summer of 2006 is now "considered a success." Meanwhile, the president says we're "kicking ass" -- like Sen. Barbara Boxer before him, Obama spelled it out, "a-s-s," -- and that "makes it very difficult" for those who would like to join Petraeus and Crocker "in a bipartisan way to figure out how to best move forward."
Yes, Obama said, the "surge" has had some impact. "I would hope it would, given the sacrifices and loss that have been made," he said. But the political progress that was supposed to come hasn't come. Echoing the words a young John Kerry said nearly 40 years ago, Obama asked: "How long will this take, and at what point do we say, 'Enough'?"