At Petraeus-Crocker hearing, eyes on '08 field
Petraeus and Crocker shared the stage with presidential hopefuls, who all had much at stake.
For the three leading presidential contenders, the appearance of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Capitol Hill this week set up the first Iraq war debate of the general election season.Skip to next paragraph
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Sens. John McCain (R) of Arizona and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) of New York rarely looked at each other during the Senate Armed Services panel hearing on Tuesday. Sen. Barack Obama (D) of Illinois, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, wasn't even in the same room.
But the seven or so minutes each had for comments or questions were directed as much at their presidential rivals as to the four-star general and top diplomat across the witness table.
The venue gave all a chance to show that they have the gravitas and grasp of the issues to be commander in chief, as well as to clarify their own stances on the war.
"All three did what they needed to do: to demonstrate both command of the issues and their fundamental points," says Ivo Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has advised the Obama campaign.
For Senator McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, the key talking point was to claim victory for the "surge" of 30,000 troops into Iraq last year – a shift that he long had urged. He also asked tough questions about recent setbacks.
"We're no longer staring into the abyss of defeat and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success," McCain said.
"Yet should the United States instead choose to withdraw from Iraq before adequate security is established, we will exchange for this victory a defeat that is terrible and long lasting," he added – a red flag to his Democratic rivals.
Ranking lower in seniority, Sens. Clinton and Obama waited hours Tuesday to respond to that shot across the bow, but respond they did.
In her most concise statement on the war to date, Clinton renewed her call for a "carefully planned withdrawal." She also pressed for guarantees that the Bush administration will not commit the US to long-term security agreements with Iraq that will bind the next president or leave Congress without a voice in the outcome.
When Clinton last faced General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker in hearings on Sept. 11, 2007, she took a more combative tone. "Despite what I view as your rather extraordinary efforts in your testimony both yesterday and today, I think that the reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief," she said.