Decisions Delayed


After months of anticipation Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testify before two House panels starting at 12:30 pm ET today.

Then it's over to Fox News for an hour-long interview with Brit Hume. (As you might imagine, the 9:00 pm ET Fox interview, which takes place before Tuesday's Senate testimony and before Wednesday's open press conference, has the "General Betray Us" side of the blogosphere in convulsions).

As for the substance of the report itself, Petraeus is expected to say that military progress makes it possible for one combat brigade to leave Iraq in mid-December. But beyond hinting at plans to drawdown U.S. troops to pre-surge levels by August 2008, Petraeus is expected to recommend that decisions about the "main body" of U.S. troops be delayed for six months, per Michael Gordon of the New York Times.

In this morning's Wall Street Journal, John McCain teams up with Joe Lieberman to ask congressional opponents of the war to listen to Petraeus before jumping to conclusions. (Lieberman is also challenging the Democratic leadership to denounce MoveOn's print ad attacking Petraeus).

The McCain and Lieberman appeal is likely to fall on deaf ears.

At Sunday's Univision debate, the top three Democratic '08ers said the U.S. should plan to withdraw troops from Iraq no matter what Petraeus says because, in their view, a military win is impossible.

With Democrats still lacking the votes needed to insist on a timeline for troop withdrawal, the short-term impact of this week's testimony is expected to be minimal. Over the long-run, the key question for the president's party is whether the public will respond more to the overall number of U.S. troops in Iraq or whether its mood will lighten with a simple shift in the trend line. (Under the Petraeus scenario sketched in today's New York Times, 130,000 U.S. troops would still remain in Iraq in August of 2008).

In a reminder that 2008 is not 2004, Bush-strategist-turned-Bush-critic Matthew Dowd takes to to argue that the public wants Washington to end the war. The chief strategist of Bush's 2004 campaign argues that the public is waiting for leaders from both political parties to stand up to the president and say "enough is enough."

A skeptical public expects little of this week's testimony. More than half of Americans think the Petraeus report will try to "sugar-coat" the real situation there, and two-thirds don't believe it will influence the President's war policy anyway, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Fifty-three percent in this poll think Petraeus' progress report will try to make things look better than they really are; 39 percent, expect it to be an honest reflection of the situation on the ground in Iraq.

Fewer than three in 10 think the surge has improved the situation in Iraq; 60 percent say the United States is not making significant progress toward the ultimate goal of restoring civil order there; and in a bottom-line measure, given its costs vs. benefits, 62 percent say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting.

Read the full analysis by ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer:

Following their Monday testimony to the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services panels, Petraeus and Crocker testify Tuesday on the Senate side.

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