Morning Bell: The Questions That Matter

Conn Carroll /

The report from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker to the Senate today could be a clarifying moment in the debate over Iraq if the right questions are asked. Unfortunately, it appears presidential politics will motivate the Senate’s anti-war candidates to ask only backwards looking questions that will not illuminate what our current options are and that are designed merely to obfuscate the recklessness of their current campaign promises to the American people.

Here is what we know going into the hearing: The latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq cites significant security improvements and progress toward healing sectarian political rifts. Since the U.S. sharply changed course in Iraq by embracing Gen. Petraeus’ surge strategy, deaths from ethno-sectarian violence in Baghdad have fallen approximately 90%. American casualties have also fallen sharply, down by 70%. The recent fighting in Basra was largely caused by the premature British withdrawal from the region. While the Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s Basra offensive showed the Iraqi army is not ready to fully stand on its own, it has made enough progress to launch offensive operations. By demonstrating that he is willing to face Shiite political rivals, Maliki gained trust with Kurds and Sunnis that may give him more traction to make political progress. Finally, a new U.S. Institute for Peace study concludes that rapid troop withdrawal risks a complete failure of the Iraqi state that could lead to massive chaos and even genocide.

The questions senators should be asking Petraeus and Crocker are: Has there been progress under the new strategy? What is the likelihood that progress can continue? What would the consequences be if the new strategy were abandoned in favor of withdrawal?

Instead of asking these important questions, liberals want to relitigate the original decision to go to war. Asked to identify what question he plans to ask Petraeus, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) told the Baltimore Sun: “How has this effort in Iraq made us safer and how do we expect it will make us safer in the long run?”

Obama should be asking: “What would happen in Iraq if, as I’ve repeatedly promised the American people, one to two combat brigades were removed each month, and all combat brigades were removed within 16 months?” That is the policy choice American actually face, and the deserve to hear an answer.

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