On April 8-9, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of American forces in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will testify to Congress on the state of the war. Over the past year, Coalition and Iraqi forces have implemented a “clear, hold, and build” strategy, nicknamed “the surge” due to the increase of roughly 30,000 troops that made it possible.
Concurrent with counterinsurgency operations, Sunni tribes that were previously at war with the Coalition have banded together in “Awakening Councils” to fight al Qaeda in Iraq. Casualties and terrorist attacks have decreased nationwide ever since.
To give our readers a preview of Gen. Petraeus’ testimony, we consulted a range of informed sources on the situation in Iraq. We asked them what they thought he should and would say.
Michael Meese, an Army colonel and advisor to Petraeus, said: “Most importantly, the testimony should include describing the risks entailed with a premature, precipitous withdrawal.”
“I actually expect him to say what he should say,” said Conrad Crane, the lead author of Petraeus’ counterinsurgency manual and a Stanford graduate. “He will recount the impact of the surge and his strategy since his last testimony. He will render an assessment of the current situation on the ground, including some discussion of political progress. Lastly I expect him to present an evaluation of the possible impact of future troop withdrawals on that situation, and to make his case for how he feels they should be conducted.”
Experts at the Hoover Institution also weighed in. Victor Davis Hanson, who has visited Iraq a number of times and whose name is familiar to the thousands of military officers assigned to read his books, and Thomas Henriksen, also a senior fellow at the Joint Special Operations University, agreed that Petraeus would credit the recent successes to the surge.
“The ultimate vision of a constitutional republic that does not translate its oil wealth into wars against its neighbors in a fragile region and support and subsidies for terrorists is finally achievable,” Hanson said.
Hanson said that Petraeus will offer “a plan of gradual brigade withdrawal in late 2008 and 2009 predicated on the continued progress in the Iraqi national police and army.” He will also advise against firm timetables, and “try to frame the parameters of a bipartisan policy, one that will allow Democrats some sort of exit from their prior defeatist rhetoric and a chance to claim part ownership of our present success.”
Retired CIA officials were more critical. Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, said Petraeus should admit the following: “I knowingly have misled the American people—and thereby compromised the interests and welfare of the Marines and soldiers I lead—in order to advance the fantasies of the Bush administration and, not incidentally, my own career.”
Paul Pillar, who served as National Intelligence Officer for the region from 2000 to 2005, said that Petraeus should testify that Iraqi politicians have failed to take advantage of the “breathing space” purchased by the surge. “
The American people and their political leaders must decide whether it is worthwhile expending more American blood and treasure during the very long time required for substantially changing Iraqi political habits and culture,” Pillar said.
Both Pillar and Scheuer predicted Petraeus will ask for more time.
The war in Iraq has seen the rise of a new breed of bloggers, those who post from the frontlines. Among them are Michael Yon, famous for his photographs depicting daily tragedy, hope, and heroism, and Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal.
“We are finding success in Iraq,” Yon said. “We need to keep focused and continue to make smart moves.”
Yon also predicted that al Qaeda in Iraq “will no longer exist as a strategic component in this war” by the end of this summer. “Reconciliation,” he said, is now the “proximate challenge” that Petraeus should address in his testimony.
Roggio predicted that Petraeus would testify that “while the security situation has improved, there is much work to be done in Iraq.” He also said Petraeus will advise against a drawdown of troops below the pre-surge levels and will “highlight Iran’s complicity in propping up the Shia terror groups referred to as the Special Groups.”
“Significant Coalition presence remains essential for the eventual success of Iraq,” Yon concluded.
On this point, there is near unanimity.