- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007

The reputation of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, whose counteroffensive in Iraq produced security gains this summer and reshaped the war debate at home, will be tested today as he and Ryan C. Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, deliver a report on the war to a hostile Democrat-led Congress.

The general’s expected recommendation for a gradual troop withdrawal falls far short of the Democratic leadership’s goal to end the war, and they have opted to attack the general’s integrity and have even reconsidered the far left’s politically dangerous call to cut off war funding.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, in a marked shift, now advocates withholding war funding to prompt a troop withdrawal — a move previously shunned by top Democrats because it will be criticized for not supporting troops in combat.

“We cannot allow the president to continue to dictate the course in Iraq, against the will of the American people and the advice of many of our best military leaders,” the Illinois Democrat said in a speech Friday at the Center for National Policy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, ended last week saying Gen. Petraeus has “made a number of statements over the years that have not proven to be factual.”

And Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said on the House floor that the general’s report could win “the Nobel Prize for creative statistics or the Pulitzer for fiction.”

“Instead of a new strategy for Iraq, the Bush administration is cherry-picking the data to support their political objectives and preparing a report that will offer another defense of the president’s strategy,” he said.

The general is expected to recommend following the “natural” progression of the troop-surge plan, slowly reducing force levels starting in April but leaving the bulk of 168,000 troops in Iraq through next year.

Despite the Democrats’ harsh description of Gen. Petraeus, seven months ago none of them, including Mr. Reid and Mr. Durbin, voted against Gen. Petraeus when he was unanimously approved by the Senate to lead the forces in Iraq.

The four-star general is considered by peers to be a strong military strategist, he co-authored the 2006 Army counterinsurgency manual and developed the plan for carrying out President Bush’s troop surge.

He also has become the country’s most political general since Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur locked horns with President Truman, says Lawrence J. Korb, director of national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, a staunch advocate for Iraq mission as the front line in the war on terrorism, called on Democrats to keep an open mind and show respect for the general’s views.

“Defaming and impugning the integrity of a commanding, four-star general as he returns from the front lines of war is reprehensible, and Democratic leaders should put a stop to it at once,” the Ohio Republican said.

“These comments do a disservice to the tens of thousands of American military families whose loved ones are under his command and serve no constructive purpose whatsoever in moving our troops closer to victory in Iraq.”

About 54 percent of Americans say the United States can win the war, but support for the mission is divided sharply along party lines. About 66 percent of Democrats saying the war is already lost, according to a recent United Press International/Zogby poll.

A USA Today/Gallup poll last month showed the number of voters who say the surge plan is “making the situation better” rose to 31 percent from 22 percent in July. Those who said the surge wasn’t working dropped to 41 percent from 51 percent.

The Petraeus/Crocker report likely will show improved security in and around Baghdad and al Qaeda losing ground in its one-time strongholds but cite failure of the fledgling Iraqi government to unite the country and end sectarian fighting. The general has indicated he will call for a gradual troop drawdown next year — reportedly about 4,000 troops — keeping most of troops in Iraq to protect and expand security.

It may assuage the Democratic Caucus’ more conservative members and further complicate its attempts to muster the veto-proof majority needed to compel a pullout.

Democrats say the Iraq government has failed to take control of its country despite the respite from violence or “breathing room” the extra troops were supposed to provide. A pullout, they say, would extract U.S. forces from a civil war and encourage Iraqis to take charge.

The Senate is already scheduled to take up Iraq pullout legislation next week as part of the $463 billion Defense Department appropriations bill for fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1.

Congress also could attempt to pass pullout measures tied to the upcoming administration request for $50 billion in emergency war spending for the current budget year.

Democrats, who won majorities in Congress last year partly due to voters’ frustration with the war, mandated the mid-September report in late May after they repeatedly failed to force the president to accept a troop-withdrawal timetable.

At the time, the U.S. war effort appeared mired as sectarian violence and terrorist attacks escalated unabated.

Democrats expected a dire report from Gen. Petraeus would be a turning point in the war debate, convincing Republicans to abandon the president and force a pullout.

But the full contingent of the 30,000-troop surge arrived in July and the strategy began to pay security dividends last month, blunting antiwar momentum in Congress.

An antiwar Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, which is receiving the general’s report today, has said privately that the party will likely again fail to force a troop pullout.

The White House is expected to submit its war assessment Thursday, which will be based upon the report by Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker.

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