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The Petraeus And Crocker Testimony

After listening to the testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker to the House and Senate committees, I don't see any reason to revise what I wrote in this column, published September 3, or this one, published this Monday. Petraeus and Crocker made a strong case that the surge strategy has produced positive military results and that there has been progress in political reconciliation at the local if not so much on the national level. They argued persuasively that the consequences of imminent withdrawal would be ghastly.

Senate Democratic leaders seem uncertain what resolution to offer next week. Plainly the votes are not there for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, and Petraeus's recommendation that a small number of troops be withdrawn in December (as Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John Warner recommended last month) leaves Democrats sputtering in agreement. The Democrats are in a politically unhappy position. Their left-wing base screams for withdrawal and relishes the prospect of American defeat.

But the middle of the electorate, while mildly favoring withdrawal, doesn't like the idea of defeat and seems unlikely to reward the Democrats for bringing it about. The result--well, here's the Politico's quote from Sen. Dianne Feinstein:

Asked what the Democrats' next move on Iraq will be, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said, "You will see," with an emphatic fist pump, before turning back to a reporter and saying with a laugh, "That's assuming we know."

All of which brings to mind the old politician who said, probably also with a laugh, "Some of my friends are for the bill, and some of my friends are against the bill, and I'm always with my friends."

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

Peter Baker, normally a sound reporter, commits a major error in the third paragraph of a front-page story in the Washington Post:

Every investigation has shown that Iraq did not, in fact, have anything to do with the Sept. 11 attacks.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. What every investigation has shown is that we don't have evidence that Iraq had anything to do with the September 11 attacks. The 9/11 commission report, for example, said that there was no evidence of "operational" cooperation between the Saddam Hussein regime and al Qaeda. But that report, like others, found evidence of some contacts between them. So we can't say that, in fact, Iraq did not have anything to do with the September 11 attacks. We can only say that we have no evidence that it did.

Do I think Saddam Hussein's regime had something to do with 9/11? I don't know. I certainly think Saddam would not have refrained from helping al Qaeda if he thought he could do so secretly. And he certainly did not think he was bound to observe the Freedom of Information Act. But whether he actually did so--I don't know. We don't know today all the evil things that Hitler's regime or Stalin's regime or Mao's regime did. I don't see why we should think we know today all the evil things that Saddam's regime did and feel confident in ruling out the possibility that he aided al Qaeda. Reasonable people can and surely do disagree on the likelihood of the possibility that he had something to do with 9/11. But to rule it out altogether--"in fact"--is just wrong. Reporters in the mainstream media like to suggest that Americans who think Saddam had something to do with 9/11 are delusional. No, they just take a different view of the likelihood.

By Michael Barone

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