Part of the candidate blogger series for Obama
During his opportunity to speak yesterday at the Petraeus hearings, Obama laid out a series of points important enough to deserve a second look:
1. Scheduling Iraq Hearings on 9/11
Obama was the first to criticize the scheduling of the hearing:
I think we should not have had this discussion on 9/11, or 9/10 or 9/12. Because I think it perpetuates this notion that somehow the original decision to go into Iraq was directly related to the attacks on 9/11.
The fact that these hearings were not scheduled
by the White House but by Senate leaders, and were apparently mandated by the legislation connected with the surge, does not make it any less of a blunder. Nor did Obama, in his statement, cast the blame at anyone in particular. The result is the same.
That senators would finish up their hearings in order to be able attend the candlelit vigil on the front steps of the capitol and that news coverage would be divided is unfortunate, to say the very least, and it does a disservice both to the hearings and to the memorial services planned for that day.
2. Restoring a Sense of Proportion to "It's Working"
Anyone touting the success of the surge is in immediate need of a return to some sense of proportion. Proponents of the surge have been taking credit for what is purported to be a minor reduction in levels of violence in particular regions of the country. To this, Obama responded by re-emphasizing the extraordinary cost of this war, detailing the costs of the war and pointing out that certainly by any reasonable standard the war has been disastrous:
And so I think that some of the frustration you hear from some of the questioners is that we have now set the bar so low that modest improvement in what was a completely chaotic situation to the point that we now just have the levels of intolerable violence that we had in June 0f 2006 is considered success, and it's not.
This continues to be a disastrous foreign policy mistake. [...] And there's has been no acknowledgment of this on the part of this administration.
As Obama pointed out, Petraeus and Crocker presented their case to the Senate and the American people and asked for essentially unlimited patience to continue an unsuccessful operation of indefinite length at undefined and outrageous personal and economic cost.
3. The "Success" of the Surge
An incredulous Obama granted that "the surge has had some impact":
I would hope it would given the sacrifices and loss that have been made. I would argue that the impact has been relatively modest given the investment.
Obama then immediately proceeded to demolish each and every one of the claims of success that were presented.
First, he pointed out, "It is not clear to me that the primary success that you've shown, in Anbar, has anything to do with the surge." By their own admission, Petraeus and Crocker called the success in Anbar "political" and "not because of an increase in troop strength."
Second, Obama slammed reports that the surge had a positive impact in Baghdad:
We have maybe seen some modest decline in sectarian violence inside Baghdad as a consequence of our troop patrols. That's been purchased at the cost of US casualties and is unsustainable.
Third, Obama pointed out that we've failed to see any progress at all on any of the most significant benchmarks. We have not seen the disarming of Shiite militias. We have not seen any improved performance by the central government. National reconciliation has not taken place at the level promised before the surge.
4. When is "Enough Enough"?
A clearly exasperated Obama continued:
If we're there the same place a year from now can you please describe for me any circumstances in which you would make a different recommendation and suggest it is now time for us to start withdrawing our troops? Any scenario. Any set of benchmarks, that have not been met.
And as Ben Smith and Greg Sargent pointed out, Biden at this point pressed forward at the hearing:
At this point, Crocker hemmed and hawed a bit -- after all, it's a tough question. But alas, when Obama tried to press him for specifics, Joe Biden stepped in and, as a senior Senator, basically bailed Crocker out by saying that they were running out of time.
Still, Obama had an opportunity to take on each of the claims of the administration with a thoroughness and thoughtfulness that stood out during the hearings.
TPM Election Cafe has the full text of Obama's speech today.
(I posted last week about the ongoing discussion about the value of candidate bloggers. Election Geek posted a response over at Techpresident.)