Politics & Policy

What I Heard at the Petraeus-Crocker Hearings

Seeing the mission through.

America’s top military commander and chief diplomat in Iraq reported Tuesday that we are making significant progress there. They added that we cannot afford to squander our gains by losing our resolve. But was anybody really listening?

Just this morning, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said the following on the Senate floor: “Is the war in Iraq making America safer? By all accounts, the answer…is ‘no.’”

Senator Reid’s statement stands in direct contradiction to Amb. Crocker’s testimony on Tuesday. “Al-Qaeda is our mortal and strategic enemy. So to the extent that al-Qaeda’s capacities have been lessened in Iraq and they have been significantly lessened, I do believe that makes America safer.”

Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker said the advances in security are fragile, and we must be patient in securing them.

Two-thirds of the 18 benchmarks set for Iraq reportedly have been met — a high standard even for the U.S. Congress. The counterinsurgency strategy has yielded positive results, and both civilian and military casualties in Iraq are down. Critics are rapidly losing topics to complain about.

Yet some of my colleagues persist in taking a short-term approach, and viewing the glass as half empty. This dreary pessimism is coming from the same people who declared the surge a failure a year ago — as it was just beginning — and claimed “the war is lost.”

The political pressure from far-left fringe groups like MoveOn.org is extremely important in Democratic politics. So some Democrats try to justify their calls for withdrawal with no real regard for the consequences. Sen. Barack Obama, for example, wondered aloud at the hearing why we can’t just leave Iraq in a “messy, sloppy status quo.”

There are two problems with this approach. It forsakes our only real option in the war on terror — winning. And it demonstrates a fundamental disregard for what happens next — what we face in the region and the world if we don’t win that war.

We all want to bring our troops home — there is no disagreement over that goal. The question is whether they will return after defeating the threat, or whether they’ll return to an America that is less safe and more vulnerable to another terrorist attack.

If we give up too soon, according to Petraeus and Crocker, Iraq would become a breeding ground for terrorists, much like Afghanistan before 9/11. Last month, Osama bin Laden declared Iraq would be a “perfect” base for al-Qaeda. But thanks to our volunteer military, we now have al Qaeda on the run, as Gen. Petraeus declared: “We have our teeth into the jugular, and we need to keep it there.”

Yes, the cost in blood and treasure is high. But the cost would be far greater should America again face another terrorist assault on our civilian population. This is a difficult mission. But as we maintain and fortify the gains we have made, Tuesday’s hearing was an opportunity to bring our broader goals into clearer focus.

Questions from the other side of the aisle about the Iraqi government’s work toward meeting the benchmarks were noticeably absent from the hearings. Instead, the air was filled with rhetoric about the financial costs and a blind need for withdrawal. Perhaps there is no longer suspension of disbelief in progress.

Too many people have stopped listening, and have determined that Iraq must be a failure for the United States, no matter the long-term costs. They insist on taking a short-term view, dismissing radical Islamic terrorism as an irritant instead of a deadly threat.

As we digest the testimony of Petraeus and Crocker and mark the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime five years ago today, we must remember that freedom is never free. We owe to the American people, and to our troops serving on the front lines — especially those who have made the supreme sacrifice — the political courage to see this mission through.

  — Senator John Cornyn (R., Tex.), is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan earlier this year.


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