View Full Version : Iraq questions go unanswered

04-09-08, 05:16 AM
Iraq questions go unanswered

John Bresnahan, Ryan Grim
Tue Apr 8, 8:36 PM ET

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee billed Tuesday’s appearances by Army Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker as a hearing on “Iraq After the Surge: What’s Next?"

The question went unanswered.

Between a morning session with the Senate Armed Services Committee and an afternoon and evening session before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Petraeus and Crocker endured more than eight hours of questioning from three presidential candidates and three dozen other U.S. senators.

When it was over, matters stood pretty much exactly where they were at the start: The Bush administration won’t commit to getting U.S. troop levels in Iraq down past pre-surge levels before the next president takes office, and Democrats don’t have the votes or the political will to force any meaningful course correction in the meantime.

Petraeus started the day by calling for a 45-day period of “consolidation and evaluation” at the end of the currently scheduled troop withdrawal in July. After that, he said, the administration would spend some additional period of time on an “assessment” of whether more troop withdrawals were possible.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) pressed Petraeus on exactly how long the post-pause “assessment” would take. “You say, ‘over time,’” Levin said. “Could that be a month? Could that be two months?”

“Sir,” Petraeus said, “it could be less than that. ... It could be more than that. Again, it’s when the conditions are met that we can make a recommendation for further reductions.”

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) tried to get Petraeus to say what those conditions might be. “What conditions would have to exist for you to recommend to the president that the current strategy is not working?” Clinton asked. “It seems apparent that you have a conditions-based analysis, as you set forth in your testimony, but the conditions are unclear, they certainly lack specificity and the decision points, with respect to these conditions, are also vague.”

Petraeus refused to be pinned down.

“With respect to the conditions, Senator, what we have is a number of factors that we will consider by area as we look at where we can make recommendations for further reductions beyond the reduction of the surge forces that will be complete in July,” the general said. “These factors are fairly clear. There’s obviously an enemy situation factor, there’s a friendly situation factor with respect to Iraqi forces, local governance, even economic and political dynamics, all of which are considered as the factors in making recommendations on further reductions. Having said that, I have to say that, again, it’s not a mathematical exercise. There’s not an equation in which you have coefficients in front of each of these factors. It’s not as mechanical as that.”

Clinton didn’t go after Petraeus with the same vigor she displayed back in September, when she said his report on improving conditions in Iraq required the “willing suspension of disbelief.” Instead, she turned her sights on Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, saying she “fundamentally” disagreed with his claim that advocating troop withdrawals is irresponsible or demonstrates a failure of leadership.

McCain, the ranking Republican on Armed Services, was critical of the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq prior to the surge but said the results would be disastrous if the United States were to pull out now.

“Should the United States ... choose to withdraw from Iraq before adequate security is established, we will exchange for this victory a defeat that is terrible and long-lasting,” McCain said in his opening statement. He said that Al Qaeda would declare victory and push for a “full-scale civil war that could descend into genocide and destabilize the Middle East,” that Iraq would become a “failed state” and “a haven for terrorists to train and plan their operations” and that Iranian influence in the region would increase. “An American failure would almost certainly require us to return to Iraq or draw us into a wider and far, far costlier war,” McCain said.

Pressing his point, McCain put a question to Petraeus that seemed designed to elicit a response about the threat posed by Al Qaeda in Iraq, and he said that he hoped the committee would be talking more about the threat posed by Iran.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), a relatively junior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, didn’t get a chance to address Petraeus until early evening. Obama opened with questions about eradicating the presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq, as well as eliminating Iranian influence inside Iraq. When Crocker and Petraeus admitted that such goals were unattainable, Obama then used those answers to bolster his argument that a phased U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is the best policy for this country.

“We all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq,” Obama told the two men. “I continue to believe that the original decision to go into Iraq was a massive strategic blunder, that the two problems that you pointed out — Al Qaeda in Iraq and increased Iranian influence — are a direct result of that decision.”

Obama added that the administration’s definition of success was too high, and that lowered expectations are in order if the U.S. is ever going to extract itself from Iraq.

Other Democrats presented a variety of arguments — some new, some old — in trying to elicit answers from Petraeus and Crocker, although their questions yielded little new information despite the critical nature of the topics raised.

Democrats noted the ongoing deaths of U.S. soldiers and Marines, the increasing instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the huge cost to the United States of continuing the conflict and the damage that the continued American military campaign is doing to the nation’s standing in the Mideast; none of that seemed to shift Petraeus and Crocker from their view that the United States should remain fully committed in Iraq.

There were moments of enlightenment, however. Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden (D-Del.) asked Crocker if “God came down into this room” whether he would want him to take out Al Qaeda in Iraq or Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Crocker said: “I’d pick Al Qaeda in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region.”

At the Armed Services hearing, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) tried to extract a morsel of compromise when he asked Petraeus if “reasonable people can differ about the most effective way forward.”

Petraeus wouldn’t have it. “I don’t know whether I would go that far, sir,” he said.

Democrats spent a large amount of time questioning Crocker on negotiations surrounding a long-term military agreement with the government of Iraq. Levin, Clinton, Biden, Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.), among others, asked Crocker and Petraeus about the controversial status of forces and strategic framework agreements.

The administration has said it will not take any such agreement to the Senate for ratification, a position Crocker reiterated under questioning even as he acknowledged that the Iraqi parliament might end up voting on the pact. Clinton was quick to pounce. “It seems odd, I think, to Americans [that] the Iraqi parliament may have a chance to consider this agreement, that the United States Congress would not,” she said.

Republicans expressed their own degree of skepticism regarding the situation in Iraq but seemed unable to find a concrete reason to break with Petraeus’ plan or with President Bush, whose name wasn’t mentioned by the GOP throughout the morning hearing. Republican Sens. John Warner of Virginia, Dick Lugar of Indiana, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Chuck Hagel of North Dakota all approached Petraeus and Crocker skeptically.

Lugar, the ranking Republican on Foreign Relations, said that “Iraq will be an unstable country for the foreseeable future. And if some type of political settlement can be reached, it will be inherently fragile.”


04-09-08, 05:20 AM
April 8, 2008
The Candidates Ask Questions on Iraq

All three senators running for president — Senators John McCain, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama — had a chance to question Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Baghdad, and Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador to Baghdad. Following are excerpts from the testimony, as provided by CQ Transcriptions Inc.

Senate Armed Services Committee:

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

General Petraeus, again, news reports said that Prime Minister Maliki only informed you shortly before the operation -- is that correct -- in Basra?

GENERAL PETRAEUS: It is, Senator. We had a heads-up in a Friday night meeting where we in fact were planning to resource operations in Basra on a longer-term basis. The following Saturday we had a meeting during which he laid out the plan that he was going to deploy forces, laid out the objectives, the lines of operations that he was going to operate along, and stated that he was moving there on Friday himself -- or on Monday himself.

SENATOR MCCAIN: And it was not something that you had recommended.

GENERAL PETRAEUS: It was not something I recommended, no, sir.

SENATOR MCCAIN: News reports indicate that over a thousand Iraqi army and police deserted or underperformed during that operation. This is four months after Basra achieved provincial Iraqi control, meaning that all provincial security had been transferred to Iraqi security forces. What's the lesson that we're to draw from that, that a thousand Iraqi army and police deserted or underperformed?

SENATOR MCCAIN: Well, one lesson, Senator, is that relatively new forces -- what happened was in one case a brigade that literally had just come out of unit set fielding was pressed into operation.

The other lesson is a recurring one, and that is the difficulty of local police operating in areas where there is serious intimidation of themselves and of their families.

SENATOR MCCAIN: Suffice to say, it was a disappointment.

GENERAL PETRAEUS: It was, although it is not over yet, Senator. In fact, subsequent to the early days, they then took control of the security at the different ports. They continued to carry out targeted raids. The operation is still very much ongoing and it is by no means over.

SENATOR MCCAIN: The Green Zone has been attacked in ways that it has not been for a long time, and most of that is coming from elements that leave Sadr City or from Sadr City itself. Is that correct?

GENERAL PETRAEUS: That's correct, Senator.

SENATOR MCCAIN: And what are we going to do about that?

GENERAL PETRAEUS: Well, we have already taken control of the area that was the principal launching point for a number of the 107- millimeter rockets into Baghdad and have secured that area. Beyond that -- again, Iraqi security forces are going to have to come to grips both politically as well as militarily with the issue of the militia and more importantly the special groups.

SENATOR MCCAIN: What do you make of Sadr's declaration of a quote, "cease-fire?"

GENERAL PETRAEUS: Well, as with the cease-fire that was proclaimed in the wake of the militia violence in Karbala in August of last year, it is both to avoid further damage to the image of the Sadr movement, which of course is supposed to care for the downtrodden and has a heavy -- obviously, is a religiously inspired movement, but which has been hijacked in some cases by militias. And in fact, other elements have used it to cloak their activities as well.

If I could, Senator, also point out that along with the operations in Basra there were operations in a number of other provinces in southern Iraq, all precipitated by this outbreak in militia violence. Karbala, Najaf, Qadisiyah, Hillah, Wasat, Dhi Qar and Muthanna -- the Iraqi security forces actually did well, in some cases, did very well and maintained security. The same is true in Baghdad, although again, even there the performance was uneven in some cases.

SENATOR MCCAIN: There are numerous threats to security in Iraq and the future of Iraq. Do you still view al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?

GENERAL PETRAEUS: It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was, say, 15 months ago.

SENATOR MCCAIN: Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shi'ites, all overall, or Sunnis or anybody else.


SENATOR MCCAIN: Al Qaeda continues to try to assert themselves in Mosul, is that correct?

GENERAL PETRAEUS: It is, Senator. As you saw on the chart, the area of operation of al Qaeda has been greatly reduced in terms of controlling areas that it controlled as a little as a year and a half ago. But clearly, Mosul and Nineveh province are areas that al Qaeda is very much trying to hold on to.

All roads lead through the traditional capital of the north.

SENATOR MCCAIN: They continue to be a significant threat.

GENERAL PETRAEUS: They do. Yes, sir.

SENATOR MCCAIN: Ambassador Crocker, let's -- on your statement, you talked about a long-term relationship with Iraq, such as a security arrangement, diplomatic, et cetera, economic that we have with some 80 countries. You envision this after we succeed in this conflict. Is that correct? Or would you talk a little bit about that, elaborate a little more.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Yes, sir. I would actually envision it as helping us to succeed in the conflict. The effort will have two elements. One will be a status of forces agreement. That will be, as I said, approximately like what we have with 80 other countries. It will have some unique aspects to give our forces the authorities to continue operations after the end of 2008.

There will also be a broad strategic framework agreement first called for by the Iraqi leadership last August and then reflected in the declaration of principles that Prime Minister Maliki and President Bush signed in November. This will cover, in addition to security, the political, the economic, the cultural -- the whole spectrum of our relations.


Finally, General Petraeus, Mosul continue to be a battle. Is that correct?

GENERAL PETRAEUS: It does, Senator.

SENATOR MCCAIN: And who are the major adversaries in Mosul? It's a mixed population. GENERAL PETRAEUS: The major adversaries are al Qaeda Iraq, Ansar al-Sunna, Jaish al-Islami, and some related Sunni extremist organizations that all are allies of al Qaeda Iraq.

SENATOR MCCAIN: It was once said that al Qaeda cannot succeed without control of Baghdad, and they can't survive without control of Mosul. Is that an oversimplification?

GENERAL PETRAEUS: A little bit, but not completely, sir. Again, it would be a significant blow to al Qaeda. And in fact, the degree to which they're fighting reflects how much they want to retain the amount of presence that they have in the greater Mosul area.

SENATOR MCCAIN: Finally, I hope in response, because my time has expired, we could talk a little bit more about the Iranian threat, particularly their stepped up support of various elements that are Shi'ite extremists in Iraq, particularly the role they played in Basra as well as the southern part of the country.

I used up my time. I thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SENATOR CLINTON: Thank you very much.

Thank you, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, for your long and distinguished service to our nation.

Before I ask you any questions, I just want to respond to some of the statements and suggestions that have been made leading up to this hearing and even during it, that it is irresponsible or demonstrates a lack of leadership to advocate withdrawing troops from Iraq in a responsible and carefully planned withdrawal. I fundamentally disagree.

Rather, I think it could be fair to say that it might well be irresponsible to continue the policy that has not produced the results that have been promised time and time again at such tremendous cost to our national security and to the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States military.

SENATOR CLINTON: Our troops are the best in the world, and they have performed admirably and heroically in Iraq.

However, the purpose of the surge, let's not forget, as described by the Bush administration, was to create the space for the Iraqis to engage in reconciliation and make significant political progress.

However, since General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker last testified in September, even General Petraeus as recently as three and a half weeks ago has acknowledged that the Iraqi government has not made sufficient political progress.

And our current strategy in Iraq has very real costs.

We rarely talk about the opportunity costs -- the opportunities lost because of the continuation of this strategy. The longer we stay in Iraq, the more we divert resources not only from Afghanistan, but other international challenges, as well.

In fact, Admiral Mullen last week said that the military would have already assigned forces to missions elsewhere in the world were it not for what he called "the pressure that's on our forces right now." And he admitted that force levels in Iraq right now do not allow us to have the force levels we need in Afghanistan.

The vice chief of staff of the Army, General Cody, testified last week that "the current demand for forces in Iraq and Afghanistan limits our ability to provide ready forces for other contingencies."

And, finally, the cost to our men and women in uniform is growing. Last week, the New York Times noted the stress on the mental health on our returning soldiers and Marines from multiple and extended deployments.

Among combat troops sent to Iraq for the third or fourth time, more than one in four show signs of anxiety, depression or acute stress, according to an official Army survey of soldiers' mental health.

The administration and supporters of the administration's policy often talk about the cost of leaving Iraq, yet ignore the greater cost of continuing the same failed policy.

You know, the lack of political progress over the last six months and the recent conflict in Basra reflect how tenuous the situation in Iraq really is. And for the past five years, we have continually heard from the administration that things are getting better, that we're about to turn a corner, that there is, finally, a resolution in sight. Yet each time, Iraqi leaders fail to deliver.

I think it's time to begin an orderly process of withdrawing our troops, start rebuilding our military and focusing on the challenges posed by Afghanistan, the global terrorist groups and other problems that confront America.

I understand the very difficult dilemma that any policy with respect to Iraq poses to decision-makers. If this were easy or if there were a very clear way forward, we could all perhaps agree on the facts about how to build toward a resolution that is in the best interests of the United States, that would stabilize Iraq and would meet our other challenges around the world.

With respect to our long-term challenges, Ambassador Crocker, the administration has announced that it will negotiate an agreement with the government of Iraq by the end of July that would provide the legal authorities for U.S. troops to continue to conduct operations in Iraq.

Let me ask you: Do you anticipate that the Iraqi government would submit such an agreement to the Iraqi parliament for ratification?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: The Iraqi government has indicated it will bring the agreement to the Council of Representatives. At this point, it is not clear, at least to me, whether that will be for a formal vote or whether they will repeat the process they used in November with the declaration of principles, in which it was simply read to the members of the parliament.

SENATOR CLINTON: Does the administration plan to submit this agreement to our Congress?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: At this point, Senator, we do not anticipate that the agreements will have within them any elements that would require the advise-and-consent procedure. We intend to negotiate this as an executive agreement.

SENATOR CLINTON: Well, Ambassador Crocker, it seems odd, I think, to Americans who are being asked to commit for an indefinite period of time the lives of our young men and women in uniform, the civilian employees, whom you rightly referenced and thanked, as well as billions of dollars of additional taxpayer dollars, if the Iraqi parliament may have a chance to consider this agreement, that the United States Congress would not.

And as you may know, I currently have legislation requiring the Congress to have an opportunity to consider such an agreement before it is signed. And I would urge you to submit such an agreement to the Congress for full consideration.

General Petraeus, you know, I know that in this March 14th interview with The Washington Post you stated that "no one," and those are your words, "no one in the United States and Iraqi governments feels there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation or in the provision of basic public services."

SENATOR CLINTON: Those are exactly the concerns that my colleagues and I raised when with you testified before us in September.

I remember well, you know, you were being asked that how long would we continue to commit American lives and treasure if the Iraqis fail to make political gains.

And in response, you said that if we reached that point in a year, you'd have to think very hard about it and it would be difficult to recommend the continuation of this strategy, and there clearly are limits to the blood and treasure we can expend in an effort.

Well, we're halfway through the year. And as many of us predicted, and as you yourself stated, we still do not see sufficient progress.

What conditions would have to exist for you to recommend to the president that the current strategy is not working? And it seems apparent that you have a conditions-based analysis, as you set forth in your testimony, but the conditions are unclear, they certainly lack specificity, and the decision points, with respect to these conditions, are also vague. So how are we to judge, General Petraeus, what the conditions are or should be and the actions that you and the administration would recommend pursuing based on them?

GENERAL PETRAEUS: First of all, Senator, if I could just comment on the -- that Washington Post article, what I said was that no one was satisfied with the progress that had been made, either Iraqi or American, but I then went on and actually ticked off a number of the different areas in which there had been progress and talked about the different laws that Ambassador Crocker has rightly identified in a number of other areas in which, in fact, there's been progress, although not satisfactory progress, as I mentioned, in the eyes of either Iraqis or Americans.

And so, that was the thrust of what I was getting at there, because there has, indeed, been progress in the political arena and there actually has been progress in a variety of the other arenas, as Ambassador Crocker laid out in his opening statement.

With respect to the conditions, Senator, what we have is a number of factors that we will consider by area as we look at where we can make recommendations for further reductions beyond the reduction of the surge forces that will be complete in July. These factors are fairly clear. There's obviously an enemy situation factor, there's a friendly situation factor with respect to Iraqi forces, local governance, even economic and political dynamics, all of which are considered as the factors in making recommendations on further reductions.

GENERAL PETRAEUS: Having said that, I have to say that again it's not a mathematical exercise. There's not an equation in which you have co- efficients in front of each of these factors. It's not as mechanical as that. At the end of the day, it really involves commanders sitting down, also with their Iraqi counterparts and leaders in a particular area, and assessing where it is that you can reduce your forces so you can, again, make a recommendation to make further reductions.

And that's the process, again.

There is this issue in a sense this term of battlefield geometry. As I mentioned, together with Ambassador Crocker and Iraqi political leaders, there's even sort of a political military calculus that you have to consider, again, in establishing where the conditions are met to make further reductions.

SENATOR CLINTON: If I could just -- one following question, Mr. Chairman?

In response to a question by Senator Levin regarding when you knew of Prime Minister Maliki's plans to go into Basra, you said, and I was struck by it, so I wrote it down, that you learned of it in a meeting where you were planning -- where the meeting's purpose was planning to resource operations in Basra on a longer term basis.

And clearly, until relatively recently, southern Iraq has not been within our battlefield geometry. Southern Iraq was originally the responsibility of the British. They have clearly pulled back and we're not, so far as I can glean from the press reports, very actively involved in the most recent operations.

SENATOR CLINTON: But what did you mean by the resources you were planning to deploy and over what length of time?

GENERAL PETRAEUS: Senator, what we had been working on with the Iraqi national security adviser, ministers of defense and interior, was a plan that was being developed by the commander of the Basra Operational Command, General Mohan, which was a fairly deliberate process of laying out, of adding to the resources there on the military side and in other areas. And then there was a phased plan over the course of a number of months during which different actions were going to be pursued.

Prime Minister Maliki assessed that that plan was taking too long, determined that the threats that had emerged since provincial Iraqi control, in terms of the criminal elements, again connected to the militia, and so forth, were such that more immediate action was taken.

And, again, as a sovereign country's leader, commander in chief of his armed forces, he decided to direct the much more rapid deployment of forces from other locations to Basra.

And that is, in fact, what he did, very much moving up the timetable and compressing the different activities that, in fact, we had been planning to resource over time.



Senate Foreign Relations Committee

SENATOR OBAMA: Well, first of all, thanks to Senator Nelson for his graciousness.

And I want to thank both General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker for their dedication and sacrifice. And obviously our troops are bearing the largest burden for this enterprise. I think both of you take those sacrifices very seriously. And we appreciate the sacrifices that you, yourselves are making.

I want to just start off with a couple of quick questions, because in the parade of horribles that I think both of you have outlined should we leave too quickly at the center is Al Qaida in Iraq and Iran. So I want to just focus on those two things for a moment.

With respect to Al Qaida in Iraq, it's already been noted they were not there before we went in, but they certainly were there last year and they continue to have a presence there now.

Should we be successful in Mosul, should you continue, General, with the effective operations that you've been engaged in, assuming that in that narrow military effort we are successful, do we anticipate that there ever comes a time where Al Qaida in Iraq could not reconstitute itself?

GENERAL PETRAEUS: Well, I think the question, Senator, is whether Iraqi security forces over time, with much less help, could deal with their efforts to reconstitute. I think it's...

SENATOR OBAMA: That's my point.

GENERAL PETRAEUS: I think it's a given that Al Qaida-Iraq will try to reconstitute just as any movement of that type does try to reconstitute. And the question is whether...

SENATOR OBAMA:I don't mean -- don't mean to interrupt you, but I just want to sharpen the question so that -- because I think you're getting right at my point here.

I mean, if one of our criteria for success is ensuring that Al Qaida does not have a base of operations in Iraq, I just want to harden a little bit the metrics by which we're measuring that.

At what point do we say they cannot reconstitute themselves or are we saying that they're not going to be particularly effective and the Iraqis, themselves, will be able to handle the situation?

GENERAL PETRAEUS: I think it's really the latter, Senator, that, again, if you can keep chipping away at them, chipping away at their leadership, chipping away at the resources, that comprehensive approach that I mentioned, that, over time -- and we are reaching that in some other areas already.

As I mentioned, we are drawing down very substantially in Anbar province, a place that I think few people would have thought would be the situation we're in at this point now, say, 18 months ago. And, again, that's what we want to try to achieve in all of the different areas in which Al Qaida has a presence.

SENATOR OBAMA: OK. I just want to be clear if I'm understanding. We don't anticipate that there's never going to be some individual or group of individuals in Iraq that might have sympathies toward Al Qaida. Our goal is not to hunt down and eliminate every single trace, but rather to create a manageable situation where they're not posing a threat to Iraq or using it as a base to launch attacks outside of Iraq. Is that accurate?

GENERAL PETRAEUS: That is exactly right.

SENATOR OBAMA:OK. And it's also fair to say that, in terms of our success dealing with Al Qaida, that the Sunni Awakening has been very important, as you've testified. The Sons of Iraq and other tribal groups have allied themselves with us.

There have been talks about integrating them into the central government. However, it's been somewhat slow, somewhat frustrating. And my understanding, at least, is, although there's been a promise of 20 to 30 percent of them being integrated into the Iraqi security forces, that has not yet been achieved; on the other hand, the Maliki government was very quick to say, "We're going to take another 10,000 Shias into the Iraqi security forces."

And I'm wondering, does that undermine confidence on the part of the Sunni tribal leaders, that they are actually going to be treated fairly and they will be able to incorporate some of these young men of military age into the Iraqi security forces?

GENERAL PETRAEUS: That is ongoing, Senator. As I mentioned, there's well over 20,000 who have already been integrated into either Iraqi security forces or other government positions. It doesn't just have to be the ISF. It can be other positions.

And there are thousands of others who are working their way through a process, with the Iraqi National Committee for Reconciliation, in the Ministry of Interior and so forth.

It hasn't been easy. Because, in the beginning, certainly, there was understandable suspicion about groups that were predominantly Sunni Arab, although about 20 percent are actually Shia as well.

But the process is moving. It's not been easy, but it is actually ongoing. And it is generally, now, a relatively routine process, although it takes lots of nudging.

SENATOR OBAMA:OK, let me shift to Iran.

Just as -- and, Ambassador Crocker, if you want to address this, you can. Just as it's fair to say that we're not going to completely eliminate all traces of Al Qaida in Iraq, but we want to create a manageable situation, it's also true to say that we're not going to eliminate all influence of Iran in Iraq, correct?

That's not our goal. That can't be our definition of success, that Iran has no influence in Iraq.

So can you define more sharply what you think would be a legitimate or fair set of circumstances in the relationship between Iran and Iraq, that would make us feel comfortable drawing down our troops?

CROCKER: Senator, as I said in my statement, we have no problem with a good, constructive relationship between Iran and Iraq. The problem is with the Iranian strategy of backing extremist militia groups and sending in weapons and munitions that are used against Iraqis and against our own forces.

SENATOR OBAMA:Do we feel confident that the Iraqi government is directing these -- this aid to these special groups?

Do we feel confident about that, or do we think that they're just tacitly tolerating it? Do you have some sense of that?

CROCKER: There's no question in our minds that the Iranian government, and in particular the Quds Force, is -- this is a conscious, carefully worked-out policy.

SENATOR OBAMA:If that's the case, can you respond a little more fully to Senator Boxer's point? If, in fact, it is known -- and I'm assuming you've shared that information with the Maliki government -- that Iran's government has assisted in arming special groups that are doing harm to Iraqi security forces and undermining the Iraqi government, why is it that they're being welcomed the way they were?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, we don't need to, again, tell the prime minister that. He knows it.


AMBASSADOR CROCKER: And is trying to take some steps to tighten up significantly on the border.

In terms of the Ahmadinejad visit, you know, Iran and Iraq are neighbors. A visit like that should be in the category of a normal relationship.


AMBASSADOR CROCKER: I think what we have seen since then, in terms of this very clear spotlight focused on a malign Iranian influence, puts that visit into a very different perspective for most Iraqis, including the Iraqi Shia.

SENATOR OBAMA:OK. Because -- Mr. Chairman, I know that I am out of time, so let me just, if I could have the indulgence of the committee for one minute?

SENATOR BIDEN: Everybody else has.


SENATOR OBAMA:I just want to close with a couple of key points.

Number one, we all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq -- all of us do. And that, I think, has to be stated clearly in the record.

I continue to believe that the original decision to go into Iraq was a massive strategic blunder, that the two problems that you've pointed out -- Al Qaida in Iraq and increased Iranian influence in the region -- are a direct result of that original decision.

SENATOR OBAMA:That's not a decision you gentlemen made. I won't lay it at your feet. You are cleaning up the mess afterwards. But I think it is important as we debate this forward.

I also think that the surge has reduced violence and provided breathing room, but that breathing room has not been taken the way we would all like it to be taken. And I think what happened in Basra is an example of Shia versus Shia jockeying for power that underscores how complicated the political situation is there and how we still have to continue to work vigorously to resolve it.

I believe that we are more likely to resolve it, in your own words, Ambassador, if we are applying increased pressure in a measured way. I think that increased pressure in a measured way, in my mind -- and this is where we disagree -- includes a timetable for withdrawal.

Nobody's asking for a precipitous withdrawal, but I do think that it has to be a measured but increased pressure; and a diplomatic surge that includes Iran. Because if Maliki can tolerate as normal neighbor-to-neighbor relations in Iran, then we should be talking to them as well. I do not believe we're going to be able to stabilize the position without them.

Just last point I will make. Our resources are finite. And this has been made -- this is a point that just was made by Senator Voinovich, it's been made by Senator Biden, Senator Lugar, Senator Hagel. There's a bipartisan consensus that we have finite resources. Our military is overstretched, and the Pentagon has acknowledged it.

The amount of money that we are spending is hemorrhaging our budget, and Al Qaida in Afghanistan I think is feeling a lot more secure as long as we're focused in Iraq and not on Afghanistan.

When you have finite resources, you've got to define your goals tightly and modestly.

SENATOR OBAMA: And so my final -- and I'll even pose this as a question and I won't -- you don't necessarily have to answer it -- maybe it's a rhetorical question -- if we were able to have the status quo in Iraq right now without U.S. troops, would that be a sufficient definition of success?

It's obviously not perfect. There's still violence, there's still some traces of Al Qaida, Iran has influence more than we would like. But if we had the current status quo, and yet our troops had been drawn down to 30,000, would we consider that a success? Would that meet our criteria, or would that not be good enough and we'd have to devote even more resources to it?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Senator, I can't imagine the current status quo being sustainable with that kind of precipitous drawdown.

SENATOR BIDEN: That wasn't the question.

SENATOR OBAMA: No, no, that wasn't the question. I'm not suggesting that we yank all our troops out all the way. I'm trying to get to an endpoint. That's what all of us have been trying to get to.

And, see, the problem I have is if the definition of success is so high, no traces of Al Qaida and no possibility of reconstitution, a highly-effective Iraqi government, a Democratic multiethnic, multi- sectarian functioning democracy, no Iranian influence, at least not of the kind that we don't like, then that portends the possibility of us staying for 20 or 30 years.

If, on the other hand, our criteria is a messy, sloppy status quo but there's not, you know, huge outbreaks of violence, there's still corruption, but the country is struggling along, but it's not a threat to its neighbors and it's not an Al Qaida base, that seems to me an achievable goal within a measurable timeframe, and that, I think, is what everybody here on this committee has been trying to drive at, and we haven't been able to get as clear of an answer as we would like.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: And that's because, Senator, is a -- I mean, I don't like to sound like a broken record, but this is hard and this is complicated.

I think that when Iraq gets to the point that it can carry forward its further development without a major commitment of U.S. forces, with still a lot of problems out there but where they and we would have a fair certitude that, again, they can drive it forward themselves without significant danger of having the whole thing slip away from them again, then, clearly, our profile, our presence diminishes markedly.

But that's not where we are now.

SENATOR OBAMA:Thank you for your indulgence, Mr. Chairman.