I think that what is going on in these hearings is that General Petraeus really thinks that it is going to take another three or four years to get Iraq to where he thinks he might be able to say it has reached a state of "sustainable security." But he doesn't seem to really want to say that. That strikes me as somewhat too cautious. He has taken risks in Iraq — putting former insurgents on the payroll, putting U.S. troops out to live among the population — but seems risk-averse in his testimony.I think it's pretty obvious that it would indeed be hard to pin down Petraeus on this. After all, unlike his battlefield risks, this one seems like a risk with no real upside. Close your eyes and suppose for a moment that he did fess up to a belief that the fighting would last another three or four years. Do you think there are any fence-sitters in Congress who would breathe a sigh of relief and say, "Well, in that case let's keep going, General!"
Why don't members of Congress pin him down on this? I don't know. It could be that they don't know to ask the question, or they think he will just dance away from it, talking about conditions and such. Or it could be that they really don't want to hear it, because it could turn into a line in the sand: Are you with this plan to hang in for another three or four years of this?
Of course not. The only thing that keeps this show on the road is its weird combination of hope and fear. Hope that maybe, just maybe, peace and stability will suddenly break out in Baghdad sometime within the next few months; and fear that if we leave, the entire region will collapse into bloody chaos. It is, to coin a phrase, a fragile and easily reversible combination, and if you remove either one of those pillars support for the war would collapse. Expecting candor on this point is not really reality-based.