A Case of Hearing Without Listening
Madame Speaker didn’t lean over and boink the president on the head with her gavel, or garrote him with her red pashmina.
No one was gelded or cuckolded or left to bleed on the floor of the Senate, as in HBO’s “Rome,” that other gory saga of a declining empire with people who can’t stop talking.
Still, the nation’s capital had the aroma of treachery, as former allies brutally turned on one another. Despite W.’s attempt to salvage his presidency last night by changing the subject and going all domestic-sensitive, Washington was more consumed with betrayal than substance.
The city was riveted by opening statements in the Scooter Libby trial, where the aspens were turning but not in clusters. Scooter’s lawyer claimed that the White House had made his client a scapegoat in the Valerie Plame case to protect Karl Rove because “Boy Genius,” as W. calls him, was critical to keeping the Republican Party in power.
In light of the 2006 debacle, the White House might have been better off saving Scooter and making Karl the fall guy.
Vice got an extra dose of unflattering limelight in the debut issue of The Politico, a Capitol Hill publication. In an interview with Roger Simon, John McCain stopped pandering to the White House long enough to lambaste Dick Cheney for stirring a “witch’s brew” of a “terribly mishandled” war. What took the brave senator so long?
“The president listened too much to the vice president,” he said, adding, “Of course, the president bears the ultimate responsibility, but he was very badly served by both the vice president and, most of all, the secretary of defense.”
At a critical hearing yesterday, senators happily blew a chance to grill Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, W.’s choice to try to rescue Iraq, on whether those 21,500 additional troops will be cavalry to the rescue or lambs to the slaughter.
Why dwell on the most consequential elements of American strategy when they can linger over something even more repercussive: their own political reputations?
Hillary Clinton, who dodged a recent important Iraq hearing by flying to Iraq, did not have any questions at all for the general. She simply lectured him crisply on her belated discovery that the administration has a “dead-end” and “blank check” policy, as she tried to seem like the kind of gal who could command the most powerful military on earth. This is odd from someone who is running infomercials on her Web site promising “a conversation.”
In their questioning, Senator Joe Lieberman and Mr. McCain seemed most interested in enlisting the general’s prestige for their own campaign to discredit colleagues in both parties who are tired of passively watching W.’s disaster unfold.
If the Senate sends the additional troops but conveys the belief they cannot succeed, Mr. McCain asked, “what effect does that have on the morale of your troops?”
“It would not be a beneficial effect,” the general replied.
Senator Lieberman also asked whether a Senate resolution expressing disapproval of The Surge would give the enemy in Iraq “encouragement” that the American people “were divided.”
The general agreed: “That’s correct, sir.”
Much of the rest of the hearing was squandered in attempts by Democrats and Republicans who had criticized the war to get the general to back away from his opinion that the troops would be hurt and the enemy emboldened by any impediment that the legislative branch might throw in W.’s way.
“Honorable people have different views, and they will voice their criticisms,” chided John Warner, who presented a bipartisan resolution on Monday declaring that the Senate “disagrees with the ‘plan’ to augment our forces.”
He told General Petraeus that as President Nixon’s secretary of the Navy, he had sat where the general was, justifying another impossible war. “I hope,” he warned the witness, “that this colloquy has not entrapped you into some responses that you might later regret.”
The fact that Senator Warner attacked The Surge in a formal way means that a substantial majority of the Senate are willing to stick their necks out. It’s the beginning of a slow procession to limit spending on the war and rein in Mr. Bush.
As one does in a job interview, the general tried to oblige everyone. After getting caught in a political mine field, he demurred that he had learned “that mine fields are best avoided and gone around rather than walked through.”
The poor man. He probably thought that he came all this way to talk about how to fight the war, not to talk about how to talk about the war.