Petraeus Testimony: Hecklers and Faint Praise
Gen. David Petraeus went before a deeply divided Congress on Monday, the commander of 165,000 troops heckled and criticized by anti-war critics before he began to speak. “Tell the truth, general,” shouted protesters as the four-star general made his way into the crowded hearing room. Petraeus did not respond, either to them or to the sole heckler who interrupted the session in its opening seconds.
“We’re not going to have any disturbances,” declared Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., who presided over the long-awaited hearing. “We’re going to ask that they be immediately escorted out. Do that now. Out they go,” he said.
A moderate midwesterner and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Skelton welcomed Petraeus to hearing with wistful words of praise. Petraeus is “almost certainly the right job for the job in Iraq, but he’s the right person three years too late and 250,000 troops short,” Skelton said.
Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker listened quietly at the witness table as Skelton called on them to “tell us why we should continue sending our young men and women to fight and die if the Iraqis won’t make the tough sacrifices leading to reconciliation.” “….Are we merely beating a dead horse?” the congressman asked.
Skelton’s tone is exactly right. Petraeus is a senior leader tasked by the elected policy-makers of the country with an incredibly difficult task.
Further, the questions he’s asking are the right ones. It’s Congress’ job to conduct oversight on our bureaucracies — of which the military is merely a special case — and the job of the senior executives of those departments to provide Congress with information and expert advice to help them make sound judgments. The process, though, should be conducted with a certain amount of dignity.