Republicans Are Right: Petraeus Must Testify on Afghan Review

Republicans Are Right: Petraeus Must Testify on Afghan Review

House Republicans are demanding that General Petraeus appear in person to testify on the administration’s December review of policy in the war in Afghanistan, the Politico reports. But the Pentagon doesn’t want Petraeus to testify. According to Politico, the key reason that the Pentagon doesn’t want Petraeus to testify is that they are trying to bury the review because they have nothing good to report.

The Politico reports:

Next month, the National Security Council is scheduled to complete a much-anticipated review of the strategy in Afghanistan. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), in line to chair the House Armed Services Committee, says Petraeus should appear on the Hill soon thereafter. “During the December review, the American people deserve to hear from the new commander on the ground,” McKeon told an audience Monday at a conference hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative.

The official position of the Pentagon is apparently that Petraeus is too busy to testify:

“as of now there are no plans to bring [Petraeus]to Washington to testify,” [Pentagon press secretary Geoff] Morrell told Politico. “The secretary believes he is most needed right now in Kabul, focusing on the war.”

Presumably we are not expected to take this excuse seriously. All administration officials are, one presumes, very busy, doing important things. Does this get them out of testifying to Congress?

The real reason that the Pentagon doesn’t want Petraeus to testify is very different, according to Politico:

The pushback on bringing Petraeus back to Washington is part of an administration effort to down play the December review, sources told Politico. While officials point to initial signs of progress, the “surge” of forces just arrived there and officials believe next summer will be a far more logical inflection point to assess the strategy. “There’s no success reportable from Afghanistan of sufficient gravitas or importance to warrant making a big deal of this review,” said one administration source.

So, according to this administration official, because there is no important success to report, there is no reason to focus on the review.

The nation’s college students should take note. “Dad, there’s no success reportable from college of sufficient gravitas or importance to warrant making a big deal of this report card.” Indeed, the end of spring semester will be a far more logical “inflection point” to assess the current studying strategy.

Recall that the reason that there will be a December review is not because of some obscure, antiquated, rote bureaucratic procedure. The reason that there will be a December review is that the administration promised one last year when it decided, against much internal and external opposition, to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. It was the administration that chose December. Presumably, at the time, they believed that by December they would be able to assess the strategy. The fact that they now say that there is nothing to report is in itself an admission that the strategy has failed.

What are Democrats in the House who oppose the war going to do? Surely they will not sit silently as the Pentagon buries the December review and stonewalls Congress on demands for Petraeus to testify, just because a demand for accountability is being initiated by Republicans.

It’s certainly true that Representative McKeon has his own agenda, which is not to end the war. But one of his agenda items is to make the administration clear up the confusion about what its intentions are for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in 2011. Recent press reports have indicated that the administration intends to “publicly walk away from” its promise to withdraw troops in July 2011, a promise that Vice President Biden and Speaker Pelosi understood as a “serious drawdown,” involving “a whole lot of people.” The White House insists there is no change. Which is it? Representative McKeon wants to know, and so do I. The administration is like a guy with two girlfriends to whom he has made contradictory promises. It’s time for the two girlfriends to confront the administration together. (You can urge Obama to keep his promise to withdraw troops in 2011 here.)

Every time you call for Congress to debate the war, implicit in the demand is the recognition that if your demand is met, everything that’s said in the debate will not be something that you like. That’s what debate is. You get to say what you want; the other guy gets to say what he wants. When Representative Kucinich forced a debate on the war in Afghanistan earlier this year, there were a lot of great speeches from members attacking the war (you can view some highlights here.) But there were also many speeches supporting the war, as you would expect.

There was a lot of complaint in the election campaign that just passed that no one was talking about the war.

If you want people to talk about the war, you need something newsworthy for them to talk about. If Congress holds hearings on the Afghanistan review, and General Petraeus is compelled to testify, you can bet your bottom dollar the press will be there to cover it.