In September 2007, Gen. David Petraeus and ambassador Ryan Crocker offered very high-profile testimony in Congress on the state of the war in Iraq. At the time, it was characterized as some kind of watershed moment, with Petraeus and Crocker assuring officials and the nation that progress was right around the corner, and with some more time, we could turn this thing around.
With the benefit of hindsight, the hype surrounding the congressional hearings last September didn't live up to their billing. The Bush administration's policy didn't change, congressional Democrats couldn't muster the votes to force the president's hand, American public opinion was unaffected, and Iraqis are no closer to achieving political progress now than they were then.
With this in mind, expectations for this week's sequel are low.
In a reprise of their testimony last September, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker plan to tell Congress today and tomorrow that security has improved in Iraq and that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has taken steps toward political reconciliation and economic stability.
But unlike in September, when that news was fresh and the administration said a corner had been turned, even some of the war's strongest supporters in Congress have grown impatient and frustrated. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, and Crocker will face many lawmakers who had expected more by now and who are wondering whether any real change will occur before the clock runs out on the Bush administration.
"I think all of us realize we're disappointed at where we are," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said at a hearing last week. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) asked, "How do we get out of this mess?" While the cost in U.S. lives and money increases, said another senior GOP senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity: "We cannot ... just say we're coasting through and waiting for the next president."
Actually, that's precisely what we're going to hear from the administration. And while congressional Republicans will make noises about "impatience" and "disappointment," very few are prepared to vote with the Democratic majority to change the policy, meaning we'll necessarily have to wait for the next president.
As for the kind of discussions we're likely to hear, the New York Times has an editorial Tuesday noting, "Among the questions General Petraeus needs to answer is when will the Iraqi Army be ready to fight? How -- after all of the American training and effort -- does he explain the 1,000 defections in Basra? And why should Americans believe that his strategy deserves more time or has a real chance of success?"
And speaking of questions, in September, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., asked Petraeus if the current strategy in Iraq "is making America safer." The general responded, "Sir, I don't know actually."
Expect to hear the same inquiry today. I have a hunch Petraeus will be prepped for it this time.