With Charged Words, Democrats Get Tough with Petraeus and Crocker

Apr 9, 2008 6:21pm

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe Reports: If the first round of Senate and House questioning left something to be desired, this afternoon’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing managed to make up for it, bringing to an end, with sharp words, the combined fifteen hours of Congressional testimony given by the U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman, Democrat of California, let his intentions be known by warning Petraeus and Crocker that "our respect and appreciation for you and the people you lead does not mean that we should yield in our oversight responsibilities."

And his Democratic colleague Rep. Gary Ackerman, of New York, went a bit further.

"With the surge, you’ve gotten a re-do," he said.

"You know, we haven’t had one of those since we played in the playground, but you get a re-do. Four thousand Americans who died don’t get a re-do; 20,000, 30,000 whose lives have been dismembered don’t get a re-do. Tens of thousands, scores of thousands of families who have been destroyed don’t get a re-do."

Ackerman continued, "The only thing we know for sure is there will be a lot more people who don’t get re-dos. How do you know we’ve won? Because at the end of this thing, unless we decide it’s the end, nobody’s going to hand you a revolver; nobody’s going to hand you the sword and say, ‘We quit. We stopped.’ How do we know the Iraqis can stand up for themselves? Nobody seems to be able to answer that question."

Crocker acknowledged that he and Petraeus deal with Ackerman’s question all the time. "It’s a question that we both ask ourselves constantly", while warning that "it’s going to be not one grand sweeping moment in which we can say "it’s all fixed" but it’s going to be area-by-area, circumstance-by-circumstance. It’s complicated, but I think it’s do-able."

"When we’re asked why the troops are there, well, we sent the troops over there and now we have to support them because they’re there," Ackerman said. "Well, why are the troops there? Because we sent them. And what do we have to do? We have to support them because they’re there. So, we’re there because we’re there, because we’re there, because we’re there, and it never ends. How do you get out of this mess, is the real question. How do you fix it?"

At one point, the conversation abruptly turned to ’08er politics.

"What would happen if we, with a new president, said we’re going to jerk everybody out of there in six months?", asked Rep. Dan Burton R-Indiana.

Crocker responded, "My judgment is that where conditions are at this time, that you would see a spiral down," he responded. "And that would lead to expanded sectarian conflict at levels we probably have not seen before. It would bring the neighbors, especially Iran, into the fight. And it would create space for Al Qaeda to root itself on Arab soil."

"The ambassador has captured my sentiment on that as well," Petraeus agreed, adding "it’s about risk, and it’s about the consequences that the ambassador talked about with respect to Al Qaeda, sectarian conflict, regional stability, the humanitarian situation and so forth."

Across the aisle from a satisfied Burton, who noted that "I hope that everybody in America gets the gist of your comments," Rep. Brad Sherman, D-CA, responded by asking Petraeus and Crocker if in November they will begin planning the implementation of the incoming president’s policies, should they call for troop withdrawals.

"I can only serve one boss at a time, and I can only execute one policy at a time," Petraeus fired back. "I’m actually very uncomfortable, candidly, with where the conversation is going as a military man, again, who subscribes to civilian control."

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