Welcome back to Capitol Hill, Gen. Petraeus. I'm sure you have fond memories of the last time you were here. It was January, and President Bush had just appointed you to be the new commander of Multi-National Force Iraq.
The senators couldn't say enough good things about you. A true officer and a gentleman, as well as being a scholar. All that talk about counterinsurgency operations and what you intended to do in Iraq really impressed them. They showed their bipartisan support for you and your mission, voting 81-0 to confirm your new command assignment.
No sooner had you left, however, than the generals in Congress went to work on their own strategy. The House passed a nonbinding resolution, 246-182, to deny additional troops for your counterinsurgency plan. And three weeks after they had confirmed you and your new strategy, 54 senators, most of them Democrats, voted in support of the same measure.
As a professional soldier, you would never comment on that bit of effrontery. Our political system wisely subordinates the military to civilian authority. That system has, over the past 218 years, spared the nation many calamities that have afflicted our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere and friends around the world.
But an excellent system doesn't ensure people with excellent purposes. So allow me to point out the obvious.
As a military commander, your primary objective is, understandably, victory. As incumbent politicians, the little Caesars in Washington have as their primary objective not losing: not losing a majority, not losing any more seats in the minority, not losing a campaign, not losing power.
That's how you get 54 senators who praise you to the heavens turn around and consign your mission to hell. That's how you get Sen. Barack Obama endorsing an immediate withdrawal from the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq but also talking tough about entering a fight against al-Qaida in Pakistan.
That's how you get Sen. Hillary Clinton telling the New York Times that the United States has vital national security interests in Iraq yet shouting at every whistle stop that if the current president doesn't end the war in Iraq, she as president will.
Since your last visit, your critics have become a little more forthright, if also a little more ugly. Back in April, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had already decided the war in Iraq is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything. Asked on CNN if he would believe you if you reported progress in Iraq, Reid said, "No, I don't believe him, because it's not happening."
A group called the National Security Network, headed by the former national security adviser to the Kerry-Edwards 2004 campaign, amplified the smear campaign against a man who has devoted his life to defending the country by holding a press conference last week on the subject, "Is Petraeus cooking the books?" MoveOn.org took out a despicable ad in the New York Times asking, "General Petraeus or General Betray us?" Next, perhaps, PETA will inquire whether you kick your dogs.
So you see how this is going to go, general. Iraq is complex. You know there can be progress on the security front and disappointments on the political front. But reporting good news any good news makes you either a liar or a stooge because it deviates from the narrative that most Democrats and a few Republicans have written for the next 14 months that is, until the next general election.
Of course if they really believed you were a liar, they'd cashier you instead of sending you back to Iraq. If they really believed Iraq was a lost cause, they'd cut off funding for the U.S. military presence rather than passing defense budgets and supplemental appropriations with hundreds of billions of dollars for continued operations.
They won't do either. Not because the military geniuses in Congress are heartened by modest signs of progress or hold even a slim hope for something that might resemble stability. Rather, it's because they're fearful that if you're right, they might lose.