The pratfall Dave Petraeus took face-first into his microphone during his farcical testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee last Tuesday channeled the Twix candy bar commercial that asks: “Need a moment?” As the New York Times put it, the Teflon General was facing some intense questioning on the president’s order to begin reducing American forces in Afghanistan next year when he “slumped toward the microphone on his table.” Maybe Dave just needed some time think things over. Maybe he needed to stall while his driver ran out to see if he left his crib sheet in his government sedan.
The general returned to the floor a half hour after later claiming he “just got dehydrated.” Must have been from all the heat he was catching from the committee.
The hearing’s running gag was a manhood dance between committee members who wanted Petraeus to come right out and say Obama’s withdrawal timeline for Afghanistan makes dirt look smart and Petraeus wanting to agree that Obama’s timeline makes dirt look smart without coming right out and saying it. This bit of patter between Petraeus and committee chairman Carl Levin deserves an Emmy:
Levin: “Do you continue to support that July 2011 date for the start of reduction in U.S. forces from Afghanistan?”
Petraeus: “I support the policy of the president, Mr. Chairman…”
Levin: “When you say that you continue to support the president’s policy … does that represent your best personal professional judgment?”
Petraeus: “In a perfect world, Mr. Chairman, we have to be very careful with timelines…”
Levin: “Do I take that to be a qualified yes, a qualified no, or just a non-answer?”
Petraeus: “A qualified yes, Mr. Chairman.”
When the senior half of the comedy team McCain and Lieberman* asked Petraeus if he told Obama, as per a recent book by Joseph Alter of Newsweek, that he’s “confident we can train and hand over to the ANA” in 18 months, Petraeus’ qualified non-answer was, “Well, Senator, I’m not sure it’s productive to comment on conversations that took place in the Oval Office.”
After a three-Twix-bar think about it I couldn’t conjure a single thing that could possibly have been more productive at that testimony than commenting on Petraeus’ discussion with Obama in the Oval Office concerning withdrawal timelines. McCain apparently could, though, because he said, “I understand that. I understand that.” He must have said it twice in case nobody believed him the first time.
Petraeus’ next non-answer was an unqualified masterpiece of bull-feather artistry. McCain asked “Do you agree with the comment of [Afghan] President Karzai’s former intelligence chief that Karzai has lost confidence in the ability of the United States and NATO to succeed in Afghanistan?”
Petraeus replied that his protégé Stan McChrystal, commander in Afghanistan, had “no sense” that there was “a lack of confidence in the United States’ commitment to Afghanistan.” To further support his position, he added, “The fact that we have more than tripled … our forces … is of enormous significance.”
Note Petraeus’ sleight-of-tongue here: the issue was whether the United States could succeed in Afghanistan, not whether it would commit to Afghanistan. They are not the same thing, at least not in any sane interpretation of the terms. We cannot possibly succeed at anything in Afghanistan other than running our ship of state aground. Committing to a course that will run us aground, however, seems to be the war mongrels’ goal, hence Petraeus’ observation that tripling our number of forces there constitutes “success.”
McCain then called Petraeus one of “America’s great heroes” but cautioned that he continued to worry about “the message we are sending to the region” by not making an even larger, even more open-ended commitment there than we’ve already made. That’s when Petraeus did his Chevy Chase impersonation and they carried his skinny carcass out of the room. Here’s how the dialogue went when Petraeus came back:
Petraeus: “Senator, my apologies.”
Levin: “Are you kidding?”
Petraeus: “I got a little bit light-headed there. It wasn’t Senator McCain’s questions, I assure you.”
Levin: “I know, it was mine.”
Petraeus: “No, it’s just that…”
Levin: “Clear me, too, would you, with the same breath, if you would? Just kidding.”
Can these guys be bloody serious?
Testimony the next day by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen was equally bathetic, perhaps even more so. Gates and Mullen both asked the committee to be “patient” and allow them to make America’s longest war even longer. They’re like the lunatics who think we needed to have more patience with the Vietnam War. After all, we only committed a decade and a half-million troops to that conflict. Just think; if we had redoubled our efforts in Vietnam we’d still be winning there.
Gates, predictably, blamed the media for America’s disaffection for the war in Afghanistan. “The narrative,” he rued, is “too negative.”
Hmm. We’re backing a crooked ruler who stole an election and relying on his drug lord brother for intelligence. McChrystal himself called the Marjah offensive an “open sore,” and he had to delay the Kandahar offensive because nobody in Kandahar wants us to liberate them. We can’t even make up our minds who the enemy is. Is it the Taliban or is it al-Qaeda or is it the Pakistani security forces or is it Iran or maybe even the Turks? Wait: I bet it’s those crafty Chinese people! Or maybe that Venezuela guy we don’t like, Chavez or whatever his name is.
The comedians who put on last week’s Senate Armed Services Committee burlesque should retire from their day jobs and write full time for Saturday Night Live. Lord knows the present manifestation of SNL needs all the help it can get. In fact, the best stratagem for fixing both our failed foreign policy and our bad television programming might be a role reversal: put the incompetent generals and politicians in charge of our wars on Saturday Night Live and put the incompetent comedians on Saturday Night Live in charge of our wars.
The only thing genuine in the Senate hearing came from a lone protester who shouted “This is mass murder” as she was escorted out by police.
No kidding, lady. No kidding.
*(Click on this link and tell me what part of John McCain you think Joe Lieberman has his right hand wrapped around. Are they about to kiss too? Yuck!)