Weekly commentary by CBS Evening News chief Washington correspondent and Face the Nation host
For months now, the administration has been telling us, let's wait until we hear from General Petraeus before we decide where to go next in Iraq.
Well, tomorrow we hear.
The atmosphere is much like the time during the Vietnam War, when the commander then, General William Westmoreland, was brought home to answer the question: Are we winning?
He assured us we were, and the government offered a blizzard of statistics to back him up. They weren't wrong. They were just irrelevant.
All we really learned then is that we were asking the wrong question. When we have to ask, "are we winning?" we're probably losing. Victory is always obvious.
The right question would have been: Is it worth the cost?
America eventually concluded it was not, and we left the war.
Let me preempt that question to General Petraeus. We haven't lost this war, but we're not winning it. We're hanging on. Victory would be obvious. Iraqi families would be strolling the streets of Baghdad, and Osama bin Laden would be walking out of a cave somewhere with his hands up.
Instead of that question, let's hope the general will be asked what we so often forgot during Vietnam: Is this worth the cost in lives and money?
And here's a follow-up: When the Iraqi parliament went on vacation during August, I gave up on trying to help them find a way to have an effective government. They have to do that. What we need to know now is whether keeping a large American military force in Iraq is the best way to make America safer.
To me, that's the real question.
By Bob Schieffer