COMMENTS: Real, Fragile, Reversible

Almost seven months to the day after Gen David Petraeus and Amb Ryan Crocker testified to Congress about the success of the so-called surge in Iraq, the pair returned with a more tentative progress report. Petraeus called the security improvements "real" yet "fragile and it is reversible." Petraeus reiterated his recommendation that the surge should finish in July, with its five extra combat brigades returning home, but he called for no further drawdown of troops. For their September testimony, the Iraq War attracted a daily three-network total of 29 minutes. The return was again Story of the Day, with each network assigning its lead to its Pentagon correspondent, but slightly less newsworthy, accounting for 41% (22 min out of 56) of the combined newshole.

"Petraeus came armed with charts showing security progress," ABC's Jonathan Karl stated, and his testimony described it as "significant but uneven" with deterioration as recently as the last two weeks. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski characterized the progress as "very tenuous," that could "still turn on a dime." The good news for those in military was that the general is expected to recommend reducing the length of combat tours from 15 months back down to a year. CBS' David Martin expected the next milestone for deciding on troop levels to be the provincial elections to be held in October yet "whoever the next President is, he or she will inherit a war with no end in sight." ABC's George Stephanopoulos called that plan "one big exercise in kicking the can down the road."

The political angle to these Senate hearings was that all three Presidential candidates were members of the committees that questioned Petraeus and Crocker. CBS' Chip Reid found the trio leaving "the political theater at the hearing room door:" John McCain "toned it down;" Hillary Rodham Clinton "was unusually subdued;" Barack Obama "left politics aside." NBC's Andrea Mitchell reminded us that both Democrats are running on a platform of "a phased withdrawal" of troops from Iraq. Obama put it this way: "If we cannot get the Iraqis to stabilize themselves within seven years, we are not going to do it in fourteen." She quoted McCain as rejecting "calls for a reckless and irresponsible withdrawal," asserting: "There is no substitute for victory and withdrawal is defeat."

Petraeus did not agree that any withdrawal would amount to defeat: NBC's Miklaszewski picked up on the general's timeline in response to a question by Democrat Joseph Biden: "On a scale of one to ten, how far along are we…before we get to the point we can significantly reduce?" "I think we are in six or seven." However NBC's Mitchell noted that Omaha "never got a clear answer to his question: how would the administration's witnesses define enough success to permit the United States to withdraw?" Back home briefly from Iraq, Richard Engel, NBC's man in Baghdad made similar comment. He called it "frustrating and disheartening in that the rules of the game have changed. For years military commanders have said that once conditions on the ground improve, then troops can start to pull out. Petraeus said conditions on the ground have improved but--you know what?--the troops have to stay."


You must be logged in to this website to leave a comment. Please click here to log in so you can participate in the discussion.