- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

David Petraeus is a soldier, so he’s accustomed to the noise of the guns and the chaos of the battlefield. Snipers don’t frighten him. But he had to wonder yesterday whether he had straggled into enemy lines.

He was greeted on arrival in Washington by a full-page newspaper advertisement headlined: “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” This was the work of the nefarious MoveOn.org, the money machine on the loudest and leftmost fringe of the Democratic Party. No sooner had he sat down at the witness table in the storied Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building, where a young Rep. Richard Nixon once pursued Alger Hiss and where Frank Sinatra answered questions about organized crime and professional sports, than Democrats pounced.

For a week Democrats had worked to pre-empt any message of hope or evidence of American success in Iraq. Every suggestion that at last maybe the war wasn’t a black hole, with some of the optimism imported by Democrats freshly home from Baghdad, was met by a media tide of derision and ridicule. Partisan ire aimed at the White House was turned on the commander of forces in Iraq.

Gen. Petraeus felt he had to assert that he had not arrived on a White House leash, a proposition posed by congressmen who are themselves programmed by aides and attended by slavish horse-holders who rarely venture more than a mumble if left on their own. But not generals. “I wrote this testimony myself,” he told the congressional snipers. “It has not been cleared by nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House, or Congress.”

The general came to Washington on a congressional invitation to give his assessment of the effects of the “surge” in Iraq, to answer questions about how the fighting goes against al Qaeda and its Iraqi enablers. But first he had to listen to members of the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees orate and declaim, passing gas as only congressmen can. Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the presiding Democrat, told him that he was “almost certainly the right man for the job in Iraq, but the right person three years too late and 250,000 troops short.”

Mr. Skelton comes from deep within middle America; the likes of Blue Springs, Lebanon, Sedalia and Jefferson City is about all his district can contribute as sophisticated centers of learned urban opinion. Everybody from Sedalia knows better than to harass a man with four stars on his shoulder and a chest full of medals. Mr. Skelton’s question was reasonable and respectful enough: “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.”

But the temperature of the welcome was decidedly chilly. “The administration’s policies in Iraq have created a fiasco,” said Rep. Tom Lantos of California. “The administration has sent you here today to convince the members of these two committees and the Congress that victory is at hand. I don’t buy it.”

A good thing, too, since no one was trying yesterday to sell “victory at hand.” Gen. Petraeus was neither Pollyanna nor even an imitation of Dr. Pangloss; Iraq is anything but the best of all possible worlds. “A premature drawdown of our forces would likely have devastating consequences,” the general said. “There are no easy answers or quick solutions.”

Treating congressmen as if they were grown-ups (a risky notion), the general offered no immediate gratification, but he espies a little light on a dark horizon. Two thousand Marines will leave Iraq later this month, followed by 3,500 soldiers just before Christmas, and by four Army brigades by next Fourth of July, leaving 130,000 troops in Iraq. “I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level … by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains we have fought so hard to achieve.” This was just the “bad” news the Democrats dreaded most, because it could drape the Democratic caucus with just the kind of gloom that such news sends to a certain cave on the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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