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.

On Wednesday, Petraeus and Crocker hold a press conference followed by network interviews. (Barack Obama, who visits Clinton, Iowa, on Wednesday, is planning to give a "major response" to the Petraeus report that day, per the Quad City Times).

On Thursday, President Bush is expected to address the nation on Iraq.

On Friday, the White House will likely send its Iraq report to the Hill. (ABC News' Jonathan Karl reminds us that there is no "Petraeus report," just his testimony before Congress. The "report" is the White House's assessment of what has been done -- and not done -- to meet the 18 benchmarks defined in the war funding bill passed earlier this year.  That benchmark report is due on Saturday, Sept. 15, but White House officials say it will likely be sent a day earlier).

Also today: Creating yet another Democratic pick-up opportunity, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel announced at the Omaha Press Club this morning that he will not seek a third term in the United States Senate. Among those Democrats looking at the race are New School President Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska governor and senator who ran for president in 1992.

Univision debate: At Sunday's Univision debate, Bill Richardson sought to distinguish himself from his Democratic rivals by criticizing their support for a border fence between the U.S. and Mexico.

"None of the 9/11 terrorists entered the U.S. through the Mexican border," said Univision's Maria Elena Salinas. "Why bother to build a wall in the name of national security on the Mexican border, and not on the border with Canada?"

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Chris Dodd all defended their votes in favor of building the wall, saying they support comprehensive immigration reform. 

But Bill Richardson, the only Latino on the stage, called the wall a "horrendous example of Washington misguided policy," per ABC News' Eloise Harper and Jonathan Greenberger.

The Miami Herald called the forum a "cost-free" opportunity for Richardson to telegraph to Hispanic viewers that he is "one of them" even though his name "doesn't give away his Mexican background."

In other news: The steady drip of foreclosure stories continued over the weekend for John Edwards. The State's Aaron Gould Sheinin reported Sunday that a subprime lender with ties to Edwards has "moved to foreclose on more than 130 homes in South Carolina since the S.C. native went to work for its parent company."

"Edwards' ties to the company are disquieting to some supporters of the North Carolinian. On the campaign trail, Edwards has insisted he is the champion of lower-income families."

"I hate to hear that," Sue Berkowitz, an Edwards supporter, said of his relationship to Green Tree. "I just hate to hear that.

"They're horrible, disgusting, slimy," Berkowitz said of Green Tree, which says it is the nation's largest lender for manufactured housing purchases. Over to you Team Edwards.

Hillary Clinton finds herself on the cover of Newsweek under a "What Kind of Decider Would She Be?" header.

While Bill Clinton hedged on the Gulf War during his 1992 race (''I guess I would have voted with the majority if it was a close vote. But I agree with the arguments the minority made"), Sen. Clinton tells Newsweek's Jonathan Darman: "I supported the first gulf war, not that anybody really cared about my opinion."

In Sunday's "target="external">Washington Post, David Broder was so bullish on McCain's recent debate performance he suggested that it was "the kind of performance that once would have kept (Fred) Thompson from running."

McCain begins his "No Surrender Tour" in Sioux City, Iowa, on Tuesday.

TiVo reminder:

Be sure to tune into Nightline at 11:35 pm ET for extended Petraeus coverage from ABC News' Martha Raddatz.

The kicker(s):

"You can surge all of the American troops you want, but they can't stop this. Suppose I'm a battalion commander. My troops ask, 'What do I do today, boss?' 'Let's go fight the Shia militias!' 'What do I do tomorrow?' 'Let's go fight the Sunni insurgents!' 'What do I do the day after tomorrow?' 'Let's go chase Al Qaeda!' 'What do we do the day after that?' 'We're going to guard streets!' Our kids are fantastic. But this is not sustainable. Our surge can work only with an Iraqi political and military surge." --Colin Powell on whether the surge makes sense (GQ, Oct. 2007)

"Um, no." --Donald Rumsfeld on whether he misses President Bush (GQ, Oct. 2007)