Petraeus: "I Don't Know" If Iraq Policy Makes America Safer

This post, written by Steve Benen, originally appeared on The Carpetbagger Report

Today's Senate hearings with Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker have been surprisingly informative, but I have a hunch this may prove to be the one-minute exchange that you'll be hearing the most about.

The clip shows Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) asking Petraeus specifically whether "victory" in Iraq will make the United States safer. Petraeus is surprisingly blunt, "I don't know, actually."

The question was, at first blush, almost a set-up. I can't speak to Warner's motivations, obviously, but it seemed like a softball -- Warner would ask if success would make us safer, Petraeus would say yes, and Warner could move on to exploring how to make the policy produce a "victory."

But Petraeus seemed to miss his cue. As Spencer Ackerman noted, "Bush describes a victory in Iraq as an epochal achievement for America and a potentially decisive blow to terrorism," but asked today whether a victory, no matter how unlikely it appears, would make us safer, the top commander in the theater isn't certain.

Now, to be fair, I don't want to wrench this from context. Petraeus probably didn't intend to make such a sweeping concession; he probably meant to argue that he's focused on the mission in front of him. Whether the success of that mission helps improve the security of the United States simply isn't on his radar.

But this wasn't a trick question. If we're fighting a war, conditions are dismal, and hard-to-predict success won't improve our national security, then it reinforces the idea that maybe, just maybe, we should get the hell out of there.

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