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The Soldier and the Diplomat

The soldier and the diplomat: Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are spending Tuesday testifying before the Senate’s armed services and foreign-relations committees—including all three presidential candidates—and will speak before the House armed services and foreign-affairs committees. Petraeus cautioned against a precipitous withdrawal of troops and cited “significant but uneven” progress in Iraq since the surge. The influence of Iran, recent violence in Basra, and the escalating costs of the war were headlining subjects. Both men faced tough questions, particularly from Sens. Carl Levin and Jack Warner, who asked Petraeus whether the war had made America safer—a question the general parried.

Liberal Kyle E. Moore at Comments From Left Field has low expectations: “As you all know, General Petraeus is heading to the Hill today in our semiannual ritual of, ‘Relax guys, it’s going great,’ testimony regarding Iraq. Once there he’s expected to, believe it or not, say that we’ve made gains in our little country of occupation. Everything’s going according to plan.” But Mike Tippitt at conservative Wake Up America is less cynical: “These are not men who are coming to Washington jockeying for position with other lawmakers, opening themselves to the flirtations of lobbyists, or trying to determine how much pork they can bring home for their districts in the form of earmarks. Petraeus is a warrior, Crocker is a peace-broker. Despite the seeming contradictory roles they play, both men actually are working for the same goal in a country that needs their experience and expertise to begin full work in governing itself, with our help as a nation at the outset.”

The New York TimesCaucus blog sets the scene: “Most noticeable in the audience, perhaps, was a row of women wearing black headscarves. With their faces painted bone white and the palms of their hands done in blood red, they held signs reading ‘surge of sorrow’ and displayed a graphic photo of a bandaged Iraqi child lying in a hospital bed. … While the signs held in the committee room reflected antiwar attitudes, the line of people snaking down the hallway, awaiting a seat in the committee room, seemed to be comprised of more war supporters than opponents.”

How did the presidential candidates fare? Andrew Sullivan, who is unrivaled in his dislike of the junior senator from New York, notes: “Just watched Clinton question Petraeus, by the way. Very low-key, to my mind. Anti-war but no fireworks and no soundbites. She behaved as if she still believes she could be president next January.” Ilan Goldberg at Democracy Arsenal catches a McCain gaffe during his chance to question the duio: “McCain did genuinely mix up Sunnis and Shi’a again. Saying that Al Qaeda was a Shi’a group before quickly correcting himself. Now, I know that there is a bit of gotcha going on here. But this man claims that his greatest qualification for the Presidency is that he understands foreign policy.”

But Michael Goldfarb at the Weekly StandardBlog throws up his hands: “This is getting beyond ridiculous. Sometimes people make mistakes, even liberals—like when Arianna Huffington, in the midst of attacking McCain for just such a gaffe, confused Iran with Syria. Does she really not know the difference between the two? Of course not. Or how about during today’s hearings when Ted Kennedy referred to ‘inter-sectarian’ violence in Basra.”

The recent fighting in Basra was a popular topic for senators. Who won? And did Muqtada al-Sadr Nouri al-Maliki emerge the political victor? Sadr canceled an anti-American rally scheduled for Wednesday, citing concerns for the safety of the demonstrators. He also said he’d be willing to disband the Mahdi Army if instructed by Iraq’s top Shiite clerics.

Anti-war academic Juan Cole at Informed Comment laughs off the disbandment flirtation: “Folks, he always says that when there is a controversy. (He said the same thing in spring, 2004). He says it because he knows it makes him look reasonable to the Shiite public. He says it because he knows that the grand ayatollahs are not going to touch the matter with a ten foot pole.”

Rick Moran at Right Wing Nuthouse writes: “Despite Maliki’s recent success in pulling together society to call for Sadr’s evisceration, the effect will probably be transitory. The factions and sects are not going to break out into songs of brotherhood and sit down to hammer out the details of meaningful reconciliation. They can barely stand being in the same room together. Self-interest will eventually prevail and some kind of modus vivendi will emerge.”

Author and Iraq vet Austin Bay says the Sadrists didn’t win the fight in Basra: “The Iraqis planned the operation and carried it out on their own, without consulting Petraeus and Crocker. Good deal. In the long run that plays well politically in Iraq and it corners Sadr—the US did not tell Maliki to go after Sadr. If the US had, Sadr could tout that ‘prior approval,’ maintaining that Maliki is a puppet, etc. Instead, you have an elected democratic prime minister who happens to be a Shia ordering his nation’s troops to strike a Shia gangster.”

Elsewhere, counterinsurgency blog AbuMuqawama has its own  questions for Petraeus. Curt military blog Flopping Aces discusses the Tuesday op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, written by Sens. Joe Lieberman and Lindsey, that praises the surge and political progress in Iraq. InstaPundit reprints Gen. Petraeus’ opening statement and offers a roundup of links. Talking Points Memo’s sister site TPM Muckracker is live-blogging the event with lots of video.

Read more about the Petraeus/Crocker testimony.