Petraeus Defiant in Senate Testimony

Blackfive’s Uncle Jimbo has what purports to be an advanced text of the “opening statement Gen. Petraeus will make tomorrow to Congress.” [UPDATE: It turns out that I’ve been had and this is just a wishful thinking piece on the part of Jimbo.]

As to the progress report itself, he is naturally touting the success of the strategy that he helped author and has been tasked with executing. In addition to the security gains that almost all acknowledge, he gets to the main criticism:

The question raised by many during my last testimony was whether the gains we have been making would lead to the political reconciliations necessary to allow a free Iraq to flourish as a stable democracy. There were benchmarks established by this Congress, and while it would be fair to question the efficacy of standards arbitrarily invented by an outside group, lets look at what the Iraqis have done. The recent $50 B budget they passed included sharing oil revenues, which now exceed Saddam era quantities, with all the provinces a major step toward gaining the trust of the people for the national government. They set provincial elections to ensure that all Iraqis have a voice in their government. Elections were boycotted by most major Sunni groups the first time and this new round will allow them to directly affect their own prosperity. They passed re-Baathification rules that allow members of the Baathist party to re-enter public society and to regain access to pensions they earned serving the previous government. These three steps alone illuminate the difference our change in strategy and the attendant increases in security have allowed to happen.

We’ll see how these work out in the longer run. For right now, they’re pretty thin beer. More oil revenue than when they were under UN boycott, undoing the stunning idiocy of de-Baathification that we instituted, and another election that will likely be a census is not exactly where we hoped we’d be five years into this mess. On the other hand, it’s progress over six months ago.

This allowed local Iraqis and the national security forces to begin to act against al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shia militias who were the causes of the death and destruction that had plagued Iraq. Our troops stood back to back with the Concerned citizens and Sons of Iraq who said Enough! to the horrific violence that plagued the country. They have now taken the lead in many operations and will continue to do so, but they still need our help and support and in some cases our direct combat power. The reason that the insurgent groups no longer sow chaos is that they cannot hide among a populace that doesn’t support them or fear them. The Iraqi public and members of insurgent groups who saw the light have provided tremendous intelligence allowing the Iraqis, with our assistance, to kill or capture thousands of the killers who made Iraq a living Hell for several years.

Another way of looking at this is, as Mir Rosen put it last week at the Center for American Progress, is that Iraq has become Somalia. That is, local warlords run their fiefdoms and the central government is ineffectual. My sense is that this is too dramatic by half. But “our militias can beat up your militias” is a perilous strategy.

Petraeus takes aim at those, like me, who have argued Maliki’s recent raid in Basra was a debacle.

A fair look would note that the Shia-dominated Iraqi Army marched on the Iranian-backed, illegal Shia militias in ways many said could not happen. They killed hundreds of the killers who previously had reigned in terror using power drills to rend the skulls of any who opposed them. Now the Kurds, Sunnis and moderate Shia in the Parliament are banding together to pass a law forbidding any group that has illegal militias from sitting in Parliament, which would effectively eliminate al Sadr’s power base unless he disbands his militias.

If one is going to append “Iranian-backed” to the Mahdi Army, it’s only fair to do so to the Iraqi Army as well. Be that as it may, it’s true that Sadr’s band of thugs has to be dealt with if the central government is going to assert control; I’m just dubious that this has happened. And, frankly, it’s not as if Maliki doesn’t have his own private militia; its legality is merely a function of his now being in charge.

This, too, was entirely predictable:

Pulling our troops out of this front in the long war on Islamic Extremism would jeopardize all of this and simply cede a victory to al Qaeda and Iran. That would leave us to fight them later in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East as they would know the US is the weaker horse as bin Laden has called us. Just this week al Qaeda’s #2 Ayman Zawahiri answered a question posed to him by stating that the primary battle ground against the infidels was in Iraq. I am forced to agree with him and fortunately for us we are beating them soundly there. But to change strategy now would eliminate the progress we and the Iraqis have made and leave an opening al Qaeda would be sure to exploit.

The emphasis on al Qaeda is dubious. Indeed, it’s hard to conceive of how leaving a vacuum would simultaneously benefit Iran and al Qaeda, given their antipathy for one another. Still, it’s hard to see how Iraq would be more stable in the near term without American troops on the ground.

UPDATE: My guess is that Petraeus’ will be less defiant than this version. The upshot, however, that we’ve made tremendous progress and can’t afford to leave now, is almost certain to be the same. Let’s hope Petraeus’ case is more convincing than this one. Given the facts he has to work with, though, that’s unlikely.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Democracy, Iraq War, Middle East, Military Affairs, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    They killed hundreds of the killers who previously had reigned in terror using power drills to rend the skulls of any who opposed them.

    Good lord, is this guy writing a Town Hall column, or is he a top general commanding our forces in Iraq?

    MacArthur all over again. God help us.

  2. Ugh says:

    Uh, isn’t that Uncle Jimbo writing what he wishes Petraeus would say?

    In any event, here’s my bold summary of Petraeus’ testimony:

    I have thorougly investigated my job performance over the past six months and I am happy to report that I’m exceeding expectations.

  3. Bithead says:

    Anderson and Ugh… Since you both seem convinced that our military has no chance of winning in Iraq, please tell me under what conditons would you not have derogitory comments for the General? Under what conditions would you actually approve of his comments?

  4. Ugh says:

    Bithead – just what do you consider “winning”?

  5. anjin-san says:

    Ugh’s question is a good one. Bit, please tell us how you define victory in Iraq.

    As for AQ’s ongoing pronouncement’s about how important the Iraq “front” is to them, has anyone stopped to consider the possibility that they find it advantageous to have our military tied up in Iraq instead of say, finishing them off in Afghanistan? I think they are playing us for suckers in Iraq, just as the Iranians have played us…

  6. Anderson says:

    [UPDATE: It turns out that I’ve been had and this is just a wishful thinking piece on the part of Jimbo

    Goodness, I am a more acute reader than I had realized.

  7. Bob says:

    Just how do we think we will finish off AQ in Afghanistan? The base for AQ is in Pakistan and I’m not seeing them give us a blanket OK to perform search and destroy missions within Pakistan. I know the new Democratic meme is we just shift forces to Afghanistan and all becomes right with GWOT. I remain much more skeptical. I also fail to see how deploying to Afghanistan is any less stressful or wears the force down less than same time in Iraq. Someone please explain this to me.

  8. anjin-san says:

    Your right Bob, lets just give up on getting the people who really matter in AQ, or that Bin Laden dude. Who cares about justice for 3000 murdered Americans anyway?

    It’s too hard. Let’s just give up and kill some people in Iraq. Then we can at least feel like we have done something.

  9. Bob says:

    Funny, I didn’t suggest we stop the mission in Afghanistan. Just pointed out that the very same reasons for withdrawal voiced by opponents of Iraq mission will be the reasons that will soon be used to justify a subsequent withdrawal from Afghanistan.

    As AQ or Bin Laden are located somewhere in Pakistan then our running around in Afghanistan helps how? It draws the Taliban in but they didn’t fly the planes. And does not fact that Pakistan possesses a nuke complicate planning and conduct of cross-border ops?

  10. anjin-san says:

    Name one person that has advocated with drawl from Afghanistan… maybe the GOP is ready to bail out there, but Democrats want to destroy the Taliban in reality, not in a fantasy like Bush did.

    Bush’s pal Musharif has provided cover for AQ in Pakistan for years. Perhaps with a new government this will change.

    What about Pakistan’s nukes? We have had ops in Pakistan without consent, they have just not been very effective. Could it be because we are focused on Iran, a nation that did not threaten us?

  11. anjin-san says:

    on Iran, a nation that did not threaten us

    meant Iraq, but Iran may apply as well…

  12. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    The brilliance of the anti-war types here is baffling. Obviously second guessing the commander on the ground makes who wish defeat at any cost better about demeaning someone who is doing his duty has he swore to do. I am so tired of you lefties. You want to disarm us so we will not hurt ourselves or others and you will not fight to defend us in any situation. Politically, you lie to get your way even if it endangers the nation which you are ill prepared to run. There are bricks in my yard that are more intelligent than most of you.

  13. Bithead says:

    Bithead – just what do you consider “winning”?

    Generally, that’s when the other side stops fighting.

    They DID teach you this in school, right?

    Oh, Sorry. Government school?

  14. anjin-san says:


    Ask the Romans how much luck they had getting folks to stop fighting in that part of the world…

    You did have history classes in school, right?

  15. anjin-san says:


    How well has the other side quitting thing worked out for Israel? Against the Palestinians, they have the advantages overwhelming firepower, a superb military, the worlds military and economic superpower supporting them… yet the other side just won’t quit fighting. They even got a nasty surprise during the last round, sort of like we got in Iraq.

    But hey Bit, keep talking tough. After all, you are not the one getting shot at.

  16. Bithead says:

    Well, the problem with the “Palistinians” is that we keep trying to drag them to the peace table instead of defeating them. Work the rest out for yourself.

  17. anjin-san says:

    I notice you ducked the Rome/Parthia issue there dude… what a surprise.

  18. Bithead says:

    No, I simply made note of the relevant part to the conversation, and ignored the rest.
    Since you insist, however, perhaps you should study the matter more closely before yo try drawing such comparions:

    Did you really think Alaric’s victory in Rome depended at all on the aid of those lands that Rome had conquered? Or did he simply conquer them, as well?

  19. Bob says:

    I remember the Democrats complaining about the quagmire we found ourselves in during the Afghanistan war. I would also note that Bush’s buddy in Pakistan was previously Clinton’s buddy.

    The success or failure of presumed ops within Pakistan would be do to local reasons or conditions. There is a significant, some would say too significant Command & Control structure there in Afghanistan controling our forces. The DOD has explicitly stated Afghanistan is the economy of force mission.

    Again, the reasons put forth to withdrawal from Iraq will be the very same reasons that will be put forth to leave Afghanistan if we left Iraq tomorrow.

  20. anjin-san says:

    Actually Bit, the relevant portion of Roman history when one considers our war in Iraq involves Crassus and his attempt to become a conquerer in Parthia. You can’t really thing about little George and Iraq without it coming to mind…

    Anyway, look it up on Google so you can sound informed when you get back to me.