In a textbook case of Clintonian posturing, Hillary essentially portrayed Petraeus as the poor sap who was stuck defending President Bush’s strategy, as she praised the military and criticized the war at the same time. She said Petraeus had become the “de facto spokesman for a failed policy” and she smugly stated, “I give you tremendous credit for presenting a positive view of a grim reality.” To believe Petraeus’s reports of progress in Iraq, Clinton said, would “require a willing suspension of disbelief.”
In her statement, she reminded everybody that she “started the morning at Ground Zero.” After all the attacks that have been leveled at Rudy Giuliani by the media for accepting an invitation to participate in the 9/11 ceremony, will they gang up on Hillary for exploiting 9/11 for political gain? Don’t count on it. Clinton went on to echo the Democratic line that the appearance of bin Laden and the resurgence of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan/Pakistan showed that the Iraq War wasn’t making us any safer.
Most odd was that her big “gotcha” moment involved pointing out what she claimed was a contradiction in Petraeus’s testimony, but it was nothing of the sort. Responding to Sen. Biden’s loaded question about whether he would continue to recommend a large sustained U.S. presence in Iraq if the country were a complete mess next March, Petraeus said he would be “hard-pressed” to do so. In response to a similar hypothetical question about troop levels by Sen. Collins, Petraeus said he would have to think it through at the time. For those who haven’t been watching the testimony closely, Petraeus has repeatedly stated that he believes that the U.S. could return to pre-surge levels by the middle of next July, but that he couldn’t make troop level recommendations beyond that until next March, when he’ll have a better sense of conditions in Iraq. Whenever pressed about long-term troop levels, Petraeus stressed this point again and again-that he couldn’t speculate on hypothetical situations because they were too many variables to take into account. When Biden painted a grim portrait of conditions in Iraq six months from now and asked Petraeus if he would still support the same level of U.S. involvement, rather than dodge, he responded that he would be “hard-pressed” to.
When Clinton asked Petraeus to reconcile this major contradiction, Petraeus was obviously baffled as to where the difference could be, but coolly reiterated his position.
Hillary is probably smart enough to know that Petraeus did not contradict himself, but likely made a calculated decision to find a way to “stand up” to Petraeus without being overly combative with a popular military figure.