Congress to hear Petraeus on Iraq with eye on U.S. elections
Democrats hope this week's hearings can shift the war's course. GOP wants Clinton, Obama to acknowledge its gains.
(Page 2 of 2)
Other panel hearings this week: the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also on Tuesday; followed by the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs panels on Wednesday.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
On the House side, Rep. Joe Sestak (D) of Pennsylvania says that there's a danger that this week's hearings could appear to set up Petraeus as the voice of the Bush administration on national-security strategy.
"Allowing one man to set the whole tone by default is to place a single person in the role of defining national-security policy and the public's view of it," says Representative Sestak, a former Navy admiral and defense adviser in the Clinton administration. "What we really need is a comprehensive assessment of our overall security."
In a bid to encourage that broader view, Democrats are highlighting the testimony of other high-ranking military officials on the strains that the war in Iraq has put on US capacity to respond to other security threats, such as in Afghanistan.
In a press briefing last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Ike Skelton, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, previewed the case Democrats will make this week on the need to change national-security priorities.
Citing recent testimony by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they said that the most likely near-term attack on the US is likely to come from Al Qaeda "safe havens" in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that the US force level in Iraq "doesn't allow us to fill the need that we have in Afghanistan."
At a time of economic distress for many American families, Democrats also say that the cost of the war – set to surpass $3 trillion, according to a recent estimate by former Clinton economic adviser Joseph Stiglitz – could surpass the crisis in the housing markets as a threat to the economy.
Meanwhile, Republicans aim to keep the questions focused as much as possible on progress on the ground in Iraq. The next steps should be determined by the recommendations of top military commanders in the field, not politicians on the campaign trail, they say.
"What's different today is that we're clearly on a new path toward a successful conclusion of the war in Iraq," says Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate Republican Conference, which is charged with message and outreach. "We should listen to General Petraeus, because he's changed the direction of the war."