Did General David Petraeus today suggest that the war in Iraq may not make the United States safer?

During his second day of appearances on Capitol Hill, Petraeus this afternoon appeared before the Senate armed services committee. Fortified with charts and graphs, he presented the same we’re-on-the-right-course pitch he delivered to the House armed services and foreign affairs committees (on Monday) and to the Senate foreign relations committee (this morning). During the Q&A round at the armed services committee, Senator John Warner, the Virginia Republican who used to chair the committee and who has called for beginning a disengagement in Iraq, took a few sharp (albeit respectful) jabs at Petraeus, noting that one intelligence report after another has said that political reconciliation in Iraq could be a bridge too far. He then asked Petraeus a pointed question: “Do you feel that [Iraq war] is making America safer”?

Petraeus paused before responding. He then said: “I believe this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq.”

That was, of course, a non-answer. And Warner wasn’t going to let the general dodge the bullet. He repeated the question: “Does the [Iraq war] make America safer?”

Petraeus replied, “I don’t know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind.”

Don’t know? Is it possible that the war is not making the United States safer? Petraeus went on to note that he has “taken into account” the war’s impact on the U.S. military and that it’s his job to recommend to the president the best course for reaching “the objectives of the policy” in Iraq. Yet he did not say that the Iraq war is essential to the national security of the United States. Warner did not press the general any further on this point. The senator’s time was up.

That was quite a statement from the fellow who is supposed to save Bush’s war. He advocates pursuing Bush’s course of action in Iraq but he cannot attest that this effort is crucial for America’s safety. Is that being a good soldier?


CHECK OUT David Corn’s recent interview with the anticorruption chief of the Iraqi government who was forced out of his job by Prime Minister Maliki and who claims the Maliki regime is so corrupt it ought to be abolished. Click here.

OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush’s so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: “Indispensable….This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft.” The New York Times called it, “The most comprehensive account of the White House’s political machinations…fascinating reading.” Tom Brokaw praised it as “a bold and provocative book.” Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, “The selling of Bush’s Iraq debacle is one of the most important–and appalling–stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it.” For highlights from Hubris, click here.