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Posted at 5:03 PM ET, 04/ 9/2008

Life is a Tale Told by a Blogger

Okay, that's it. Two days, and what have we learned?

I think what we know is that the war isn't going to change much until at least early next year. And maybe not even then.

Rightly or wrongly, Gen. Petraeus has set us on a course for another several years in Iraq. After all, the military will tell you that successful counterinsurgency campaigns last five to 10 years.

But what happens next year, especially if a new president decides to draw down? We may well find out.

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Posted at 4:05 PM ET, 04/ 9/2008

Petraeus Digs In His Heels

Gen. Petraeus, in an exchange with Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D.-Calif.) made his views on withdrawing from Iraq clearer. While he wants to get out of Iraq, he said, "What we want to do is come home the right way," without jeopardizing the gains made, he said, after being pushed.

I think this is a bit farther than he went yesterday when Sen. Lindsey Graham (BFF - McCain) tried to draw him out. Petraeus is clearly is no fan of Sen. Obama's notion of pulling out perhaps a brigade a month (by mid-summer, we'll have 15 combat brigades in Iraq).

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Posted at 3:56 PM ET, 04/ 9/2008

Dems vs. Maliki, GOP vs. Iran

As I listen to Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) talk about Iran and its malign actions, it strikes me that Republicans in these hearings have been running against Iran, while Democrats have been running against the Iraqi government. Rep. Russ Carnahan (D.-Mo.) spoke earlier about "a mounting backlash to the Iraqis not standing up."

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Posted at 3:42 PM ET, 04/ 9/2008

Ron Paul Speaks

Say what you will, Rep. Ron Paul (R.-Texas) is a clear speaker. He just asked a boatload of powerfully put questions. Among them:

--"What is moral about demanding more needless sacrifice"?

--"The Iraqi government . . . is an ally of the Iranians." So why do we support it?

--If Iraq, our ally, has diplomatic relations with Iran, why don't we?

--What would we think if Iran occupied Mexico? (I think that was his question.)

--"Since no one can define winning this war, just who can we expect to surrender?"

He said he knew they didn't have time, in his five minutes, to answer all those. But he said that one he did want to hear from them now about was this: "Does the administration have the authority to bomb Iran without further congressional approval?"

Both Petraeus and Crocker sidestepped the question, saying that it was outside their purview, which is Iraq. Paul was disappointed with that response. "It disturbs me to no end that we can't get a flat-out 'no,'" meaning that the White House cannot act without congressional permission.

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Posted at 3:15 PM ET, 04/ 9/2008

Downsizing the Goals in Iraq

That was a tough exchange.

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) put a very sharp point on his question about why we are in Iraq. One family in his district lost a son in Iraq this week, he said. "What has all this been for?" he asked Petraeus. "What is winning?"

Petraeus did his best to answer. We are fighting, he said, for the national interest, and for regional stability in the Middle East. We are "trying to achieve . . . a country that is at peace with itself and its neighbors," and can govern itself. "We're not after the Holy Grail in Iraq, and we're not after Jeffersonian democracy," he said.

This strikes me as a real reduction of U.S. goals from President Bush's talk of victory and democracy.

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Posted at 3:03 PM ET, 04/ 9/2008

Crocker Predicts Catastrophic Effects of a Quick Withdrawal

If next year conditions in Iraq are about as they are now, and U.S. troop levels are cut quickly, then civil war and perhaps regional war would follow, Crocker just told Rep. Dan Burton (R.- Ind.).

This is the strongest criticism I've heard from Crocker or Petraeus of the approach to Iraq that Democratic presidential candidates have offered.

"You would see a spiral down, and that would lead to expanded sectarian conflict," Crocker said. "It would bring the neighbors, especially Iran, into the fight. And it would create a space for al Qaeda."

Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.), the next questioner, seemed to sense that Petraeus would answer differently. So, he asked, if a Democrat is elected president in November, would he begin planning for a drawdown.

"I can only work for one boss at a time," Petraeus responded. "I'm actually very uncomfortable, candidly, with where the conversation is going."

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Posted at 2:48 PM ET, 04/ 9/2008

Petraeus Does Pop Culture

General Petraeus just "jokingly" compared the tribes of al Anbar province to the families on "The Sopranos." Each tribe, he said, seems to have a trucking business, a construction business, and an import-export business.

It really is more than a joke. I remember walking into one of Saddam's palaces, with its cheap painted gold furniture and huge ugly chandeliers, and thinking, Oh, this country was run by a big version of Tony Soprano.

The Sopranos, of course, had a finale.

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Posted at 2:36 PM ET, 04/ 9/2008

Haven't We Heard This All Before?

One of my favorite actors was Slim Pickens -- not just in 'Dr. Strangelove,' but also in 'Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.'

I was just thinking of him because of how slim the pickings are in this fourth hearing. Sometimes I feel like I've heard it all before -- and I have. The words all begin to run together --"difficult," "challenging," "fragile," "reversible."

But part of the interest of reporting is how surprising life can be. So stick around.

Here is a transcript of the opening statement from Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), acting chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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Posted at 12:34 PM ET, 04/ 9/2008

Three Down

And the House Armed Services hearing is concluded.

I thought this hearing produced less than I expected. Petraeus and Crocker have an excuse: They are tired. But why do House hearings seem less coherent than Senate hearings? The members here had almost as much time to ask questions.

I'm off to set up my laptop in the hearing room for the House Foreign Relations Committee.

Here is a complete transcript of the hearing.

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