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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Petraeus Meets His Match

By Joe Klein

The Senator who mined this turf most profitably was ... Barack Obama (a surprise, since you never expect a presidential peacock to be succinct or acute enough in these bloviathons). Obama hit Petraeus and Crocker with an artful series of questions about the two main threats: Sunni terrorists like al-Qaeda in Iraq, and Iran. He noted that al-Qaeda had been rejected by the Iraqi Sunnis and chased to the northern city of Mosul. If U.S. and Iraqi troops succeeded there, what was next? He proposed: "Our goal is not to hunt down and eliminate every single trace of al-Qaeda but rather to create a manageable situation where they're not posing a threat to Iraq." Petraeus said Obama was "exactly right."

Obama asked Crocker about Iran: We couldn't expect Iran to have no influence in Iraq, could we? "We have no problem with a good, constructive relationship between Iran and Iraq," Crocker replied. "The problem is with the Iranian strategy of backing extremist militia groups and sending in weapons and munitions that are used against Iraqis and against our own forces." Obama then pursued Barbara Boxer's previous line of questioning: If Iran is such a threat to

Iraq, why was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad greeted with open arms and apparently a lot of official kissing in Baghdad last month? "A visit like that," Crocker said, avoiding the question, "should be in the category of a normal relationship."

At which point, Obama dropped the hammer. The current situation in Iraq was "messy," he said. "There's still violence; there's still some traces of al-Qaeda; Iran has influence more than we would like. But if we had the current status quo and yet our troops had been drawn down to 30,000, would we consider that a success?" Crocker, semi-speechless, chose to misinterpret the question, saying a precipitous drawdown to 30,000 troops would be disastrous. But Obama's question was more diabolical. He was saying, Hey, al-Qaeda's on the run, and Iran is probably more interested in harassing the U.S. military than having another war with Iraq. How much better does the situation need to be for us to leave? He had taken Joe Lieberman's dart and beaten it into a plowshare.

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