gillespie_ed.jpgIt’s “gimme more FUs day.” I’m going to try and liveblog as much of the Petraeus/Crocker Dog and Pony Show and WH-Written Talking Points as I can. Do try to restrain yourself on comments to be kind to the servers and your liveblogger. Thanks!

Today, I’m featuring this lovely photo of WH/GOP message man Ed Gillespie to give him some public credit for manufacturing both the Petraeus and Crocker public talking points and the GOP-caucus strategic coordination as well. Via Open Left:

As if this is not obvious already.

Another new arrival in the West Wing set up a rapid-response PR unit hard-wired into Petraeus’s shop. Ed Gillespie, the new presidential counselor, organized daily conference calls at 7:45 a.m. and again late in the afternoon between the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the U.S. Embassy and military in Baghdad to map out ways of selling the surge.

From the start of the Bush plan, the White House communications office had been blitzing an e-mail list of as many as 5,000 journalists, lawmakers, lobbyists, conservative bloggers, military groups and others with talking points or rebuttals of criticism. Between Jan. 10 and last week, the office put out 94 such documents in various categories — “Myths/Facts” or “Setting the Record Straight” to take issue with negative news articles, and “In Case You Missed It” to distribute positive articles or speeches. (emphasis mine)

Dodge and phony show indeed. This is the WHIG strategy…again.

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SEN. LUGAR QUESTIONS: Starts with giving regrest from Sen. Voinavich — attending Rep. Gillmore’s funeral today in Ohio. Will submit questions to witnesses following his return. In current Newsweek magazine, there is an article on the current officers that Petraeus has gathered around him — possible strategy on finding pockets of near stability and beefing up local leadership there. This strategy has won out over the pursuing a strategy of every insurgent everywhere. David Brooks argues that this is making some headway, and even if the central government is unable to reconcile, but locals are doing better with this and making some progress. As many as 35,000 Sunni families have fled Baghdad this year — ethnic cleansing questions and question about walls being built so that sectarian violence isn’t done as easily. Makes point that President made a trip to Anbar, not Baghdad, as a sort of signal victory for local government and not central nationalism.

Asks Crocker to assess the fact that local factions are doing the work of governance. e.g. Kurds negotiating on their own with Hunt Oil for distribution agreement. A so-called soft-partition — not the three part but multiple part potentially governance. What is going on with the diplomatic initiatives, some transparency on what is occurring, with at least a minimal number of American troops there to be a general referee on the process and to keep the peace. Crocker says that he agrees completely that we have to retain an open mind with an absence of preconceptions on what Iraq should be and a readiness to respond on the ground to whatever Iraq could be. Iraq in the future will not resemble Iraq of 2003 — and may be very different from what it is today. There is decentralization of government — the role of provincial leaders and local governors, while not completely established, is evolving into a more substantial group of leaders. And there is a much more robust debate about this — we are starting to see this among Sunnis, which he sees as a positive sign.

We need to be there to have a more intensive, more positive, more regulated engagement betwen Iraq and its neighbors. It would be good, for example, if Iraq’s neighbors would have a more robust, active role in economic development in Anbar, for example, to support positive developments there. Promote regional dialogue, all with the permission of the Iraqi government and with their cooperation — regionally, bilaterally, and internationally with the UN mission in Iraq.

SEN. DODD QUESTIONS: Longer statement will be placed in the record. While we debate about policy questions, there is no debate about the admiration for the level of courage shown by the men and women who serve under a very, very difficult set of circumstances. Looking at violence/surge chart — looks like there was a reduction of violence before the initial ramp up in troops? Petraeus says that it did begin to reduce earlier than the troop deployment — he argues that it came with the announcement of the escalation. Sen. Dodd outlines his conversation with an Iraqi vet who lost an eye in Iraq (at Walter Reed for treatment) — serviceman detailed his experience with the “whack-a-mole” effect (my words) where we clear out an area and within “an hour and a half” the insurgents are right back in the area. Details all sorts of porblems, infighting, and other issues that Petraeus glossed over in his statement, as did Crocker.

All of the effort that has been made through the years, well before the surge, we have been begging the leadership to get their act together — 4 1/2 years later, you are still arguing that they need more time to produce results. What makes you think that this time is when they do so, based on such a failed history? Petraeus says he takes hope from the fact that they are actually sharing oil revenue, despite not having codified it into law. There has been some provision for amnesty, even though it isn’t written into law. Says this is a very significant step — candidly, this is what gives some encouragement — the national reconciliation has not taken place, but there are individual actions being take which give hope that they can accommodate one another. And it is supported by the Iraqi people.

Police are paid nationally, as you know they aren’t paid locally any longer but are now paid nationally, regardless of sectarian affiliation, which builds trust. Says that Biden correctly quoted his letter saying that they are not satisfied with progress thus far. Dodd asks whether the mistrust of our military with local Iraqi troops is common one — Petraeus says that there are 165,000 different views on that.

SEN. HAGEL QUESTIONS: We respect the military bravery of those serving, but it is our responsibility to question strategy and the results of the current actions — that is not unpatriotic, it is our duty as members of Congress and as Americans. References number of analyses which call current strategy into question, including one from Anthony Cordesman. Hagel says he asked the comptroller general for analysis of the Iraqi government — and was told that, at best, it’s dysfunctional. Chief of Staff of USArmy — about the tactical effects of surges, how minimal they are and, as Adm. Fallon has said, no amount of troops and time will make much difference unless there is political reconciliation in Iraq.

It seems to me logical that when you flood a zone with more troops, you are going to see some consequence, some result to that. I don’t think that is particularly news — where we’ve inserted more troops, costing more American lives, but what are the results? In four and a half years, we have not seen political progress. When you look at Southern Iraq, which I note that neither of you mentioned today, Gen. Jones says that we have probably lost the southern 4 provinces — that things are lawless, that the police force is infiltrated by militias — lawless gangs and marauders, and the British troops are holed up in the airport there in Basra. We are essentially paying tribute to these people to keep open the port — and two Iraqi governors of that province have been assasinated recently. Where is this going? Let’s not get into the underbrush on the 18 benchmarks — which, by the way, those benchmarks came from the Iraqi government and the Bush WH — they dictated these benchmarks, not the US Congress, and they haven’t been met.

We have never looked at Iraq in the larger strategic context — as in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the larger Middle East. We are losing American blood and treasure. Referencing the NYTimes op-ed from two weeks ago from NCOs who just finished long tour in Iraq. These corporals and sergeants have to do the dying and the fighting — you don’t get good answers from charts or WH talking points, you get it from these guys, and I know that you know this General.

One of your quotes, Crocker, “if we aren’t careful, Iraq may devolve into civil war.” Come on — they are already in a sectarian civil war. Are we going to continue to invest American blood and treasure — for what? To buy time? How much more time do we have to buy with American lives and treasure for no success? Crocker says there is an enormous amount of dysfunctionality in Iraq — that is beyond question. There is a lot of discontent about that, in and out of government — characterizes this as some qualified good news, because it isn’t being debated now on strict sectarian lines. Iraqis are talking about this dysfunctionality. Iraq, in Crocker’s judgment, almost completely unravelled in 2006 and early 2007. Under those conditions, it is impossible to proceed with governance that is effective — it has just been in the last few months that the security situation has improved enough to work on meaningful national reconciliation. Iraqis need space to work out these issues that are yet to be resolved. Just now starting to get the space to work on it.

When security does improve, as we saw in Anbar, political life starts up again. In Anbar, every little town has a city council and mayor, not something we saw several months ago, due to more stablity there. Provincia budgets are being funded in a realtively equitable way. At a minimum now, we have an environment that is beginning to develop that can allow this to happen.

Petraeus says that he’s trying to give as accurate a picture as he can provide, not to just give a good picture. Goes back to the prior statement on force reduction potential. The Marine expiditionary force, as Biden points out, was already scheduled to come out. Some discussion on the MU, and what their msision was and timeframe definitions.

The sectarian faultlines never stop until the area is stabilized — in a number of cases, the progress is not just because of the number of forces sitting on a problem, but it is also due to political change in the regional area. What happened in Anbar is politics — saying no more to al qaeda, an organization with which they were, at least tacitly in league, and rejecting that ideology and moving their own area forward. Same in Dialo (sp?). Same that our forces have achieved in clearing Bacquba, with the help of the tribes holding back violence with political choices being made that this is important. This is an important development that we obviously want to work very hard to tie it into the center sufficiently. Trying to find who are the irreconcilables and isolating them, and finding the ones who can work together and supporting them where we can.

SEN. KERRY QUESTIONS: Thanks witnesses for being here, and thanking troops and diplomatic service for their sacrifices on our behalf. This is different and significant from Vietnam after the testimony — almost half the names inscribed on the Vietnam memorial were inscribed after that speech. Our troops are owed a policy that is worthy of their sacrifice, and our country is owed a policy that meets our needs. What I hear is that we are passing by the sort of strategic larger issues here, and focusing on statistics that have only snapshot meaning. For all those statistics, they cannot make the Iraqis make the decisions that they have to make. Is it acceptable that American troops lose their lives while Iraqi politicians delay making necessary decisions? Is it acceptable that the southern part of Iraq is left to militias and Iranian outside influence and, if so, why the different standards for the rest of the country? Third, with regard to the benchmarks — those were demanded by the Iraqis and the Bush Administration — why shouldn’t they be held to their own standards? Isn’t it simply moving goalposts to say we should not look at the benchmark but instead look at a lower standard and hope for some progress somewhere?

You point to Anbar province. How can that be considered a national reconciliation question — the sheiks were tired of their daughters being raped and their sons being beheaded by al qaeda, and they have made an accommodation with the US, not the national government. One of the reasons that the violence in Baghdad is down, there has been an enormous shift in population — middle class Sunnis and Shi’ias who could get out have gone, we have had an enormous outflux of refugees. What is the leverage, if we are saying that we are going to stay indefinitely, what is the leverage to force political reconciliation?

Crocker says that the big issue is political reconciliation. But we have to acknowledge the need for security conditions existing before political progress can occur. The country almost came across completely in 2006. Kerry notes, with 130,000 troops there. Crocker says it is making a difference, but it is going to take time. Everyone is not prepared to sit down and make historic compromises — that is going to take time and effort. Crocker says that he does agree with Lugar on benchmarks, they are important and they are Iraqi. [CHS notes: clearly minimizing the Bush WH responsibility on putting these together. Thanks, Ed!] It is a set of circumstances that have made political reconciliation either difficult or, at times, outright impossible. The time and the space to do this has really just started over this summer. In terms of Anbar, not to over-emphasize it, but there are some things of broader significance: it isn’t just the Anbaris. What happens there, we have tried to link it to the center and to the province. That’s why the Anbaris who have come on as police forces are important — the central government has them on board to work on behalf of the central government security and the province.

Can that be replicated? No, not in a cookie-cutter fashion. But we are seeing some of the same phenomenon in other areas. That is the stage for a reconciliation process that may mean something and we need to encourage that. Petraeus says he won’t repeat what Crocker said. Even in Baghdad neighborhoods where al qaeda had strongholds, there have been some turnarounds — the key has been tying this into the national government, and not fixed-site security forces that we had hired them in the interim. Kerry interrupts to say the question has never been al qaeda, because they have all known that they had overstayed their welcome for some time — the question is political reconciliation that Petraeus is dodging and Kerry asks for an answer. Biden chimes in that the Anbar police are there because they cut a deal with them to get local police there rather than national police — that we are paying them to get local police. Petraeus says that they stopped raising their hands to become police two years ago with the pushback from al qaeda against them. Uses Ramadi as an example — couldn’t be cleared by troops alone — having locals involved has made it work, and is keeping it clear after we withdrew somewhat. Had to happen this way.

Petraeus says that two of the southern provinces are doing fine, including Messana (sp?) province which had an assassination of its governor recently. In Dekar province, we have some Aussies and Americans, and they are doing well — this comes down to leadership, and a particular colonel leader there has done very well. The tribes get together and negotiate a solution. They are not necessarily tranferrable to mixed areas. The Marsh Arabs in that area have never been controlled by an Iraqi government — they are going to do what they are going to do — they will come to their Iraqi solutions. In Basra province, the British did a good hand-off to a good force that was trained and equipped — the Brits have consolidated their control at an airport base of operations, and we’ll discuss when I get back on how to make certain we are all on the same page. No question that there is some competition between the various factions, and the violence level has flat out plummetted. For the Shi’ia south, that is probably okay — these are Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems, but it doesn’t transfer to mixed populations.

Am going to start a fresh thread…