The top US general in Iraq, David Petraeus, and the top US diplomat in Iraq, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, were on message, synched up, and made little news in their Sunday TV news interview program appearances.
They spoke of good news, bad news, and challenges ahead.
Petraeus's reference to typical counter-insurgencies lasting roughly a decade prompted some to speculate that he was suggesting the US military would remain engaged in Iraq for that long -- perhaps an overreach in trying to read tea leaves.
Crocker and Petraeus used the same word -- "snapshot" -- when characterizing the much-anticipated joint report they will present to Congress this September -- clearly an attempt to lower expectations among those who hoped the report would play a huge role in determining whether the US stays the course in Iraq.
Here are three key exchanges from the Petraeus interview with Fox News's Chris Wallace:
WALLACE: General, the Pentagon issued its quarterly report this week, and it indicated that there has been no measurable progress so far. Let's take a look.
The Pentagon said the total number of weekly attacks on Iraqi civilians, Iraqi forces and U.S. forces actually went up from the last month before the surge to the first three months of the surge.
And the Pentagon report concluded the aggregate level of violence in Iraq remained relatively unchanged during this reporting period.
General, why shouldn't we back home view that as disappointing?
PETRAEUS: Well, the aggregate level is about the same. We actually have borne the brunt of much more of that, as have Iraqi security forces, and civilians a good bit less.
In fact, one of the metrics that we track, which is sectarian murders and executions in Baghdad, went down — by months, it was down to about a third — by the end of April, it was down to about a third of where it was back in January.
It did come back up as we announced in the month of May a little less than half. That is trending back down again.
The fact is that as we go on the offensive, the enemy is going to respond. That is what has happened. Car bombs have been coming steadily down. And as I mentioned, sectarian executions in Baghdad in particular have come down.
So again, certainly it is a mix, and that is what I've tried to convey with my assessment, that we're ahead in some areas and we need to do some serious work in others.
WALLACE: Well, let's start talking about the Washington clock. Less than a month ago, President Bush was talking up the importance of this progress report that you're going to be delivering to him and to Congress in September.
Let's put it up on the screen. Mr. Bush said, "I see it as an important moment because David Petraeus says that's when he'll have a pretty good assessment as to what the effects of the surge has been."
But now, sir, a number of top administration officials are downplaying the September report. Are you backing away from how much you're going to be able to say in September?
PETRAEUS: I am not. In fact, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, my diplomatic wing man here, and I will go back in September and we'll provide a snapshot of where we are at that time, and it will be a forthright assessment of what we've achieved and what we haven't achieved.
I'll talk, obviously, about the security aspects of the situation and he will address the political and economic ones.
We also owe it, we think, to the decision-makers at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue and those who provide advice and consent and resources for the policies at the other end some sense of the implications of the various courses of action that might be under discussion at that point in time.
There are some very serious centrifugal forces here in Iraq, and I think we all need to have very clear eyes about what can happen, what the implications of various options are and, again, just to assess those correctly.
WALLACE: Well, let me look out even further than that, General. Some administration officials have talked about needing to make — and basically squaring with the American public, saying, "Look, this is going to be a long-term commitment," and even comparing it to the situation in South Korea, where we have had thousands of troops for decades.
Do you see this to stabilize and achieve what we want in Iraq as that kind of a long-term commitment?
PETRAEUS: Well, I think the real question, Chris, is at what level. I think just about everybody out there recognizes that a situation like this, with the many, many challenges that Iraq is contending with, is not one that's going to be resolved in a year or even two years.
In fact, typically, I think historically, counterinsurgency operations have gone at least nine or 10 years.
The question is, of course, at what level, how much will we have to continue to contribute during that time, how much more can the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government pick up as this goes along. And I think that's the real question. And I'm not sure what the right analogy is, whether it's Korea or what have you.
I think all that the folks in Washington were trying to indicate by that was that there is some possibility of some form of long-term security arrangement over time.
And I think in general that that's probably a fairly realistic assessment, assuming that the Iraqi government, in fact, does want that to continue. And of course, it is very much up to them, and their sovereignty is paramount in all of this.
Here is the entire Petraeus interview transcript.
Two key excerpts of the Crocker interview on NBC's "Meet the Press":
NBC's TIM RUSSERT: A U.S. commander this morning saying just 40 percent of Baghdad is now secure. Has the surge done anything in a positive way to bring us closer to the goal of a secure Baghdad?
AMB. RYAN CROCKER: I think it very much has, and the portion of the report you just cited notes that, that violence has indeed shifted away from the two areas where the surge is directed, that’s Anbar and Baghdad. The success in Anbar has been quite striking as the Iraqi tribes out there have basically turned against al-Qaeda, and the level of violence in Anbar is dramatically down. The report notes that violence has shifted out of Baghdad. It is not good that we’re seeing violence in other areas and there are some major challenges in the province of Diyalah to the northeast and to the belt around Baghdad, particularly to the south. General Petraeus and I talk on a more than daily basis. As you know, we’ve got a new offensive under way now that the, the full strength of the surge has been reached, primarily directed at al-Qaeda in the Baghdad area. So, you know, we’re moving by phases here. MR. RUSSERT: Last week, the former secretary of state, Colin Powell, was on this program, and spoke about the situation in Iraq, and the military surge. Let’s listen, and come back and talk about it.
(Videotape, June 10, 2007):
GEN. COLIN POWELL (RET.): It is a civil war. The current strategy to deal with it, called a surge, the military surge, our part of the surge under General Petraeus, the only thing it can do is put a heavier lid on this boiling pot of civil war stew.
And it’s one thing to send over 30,000 additional troops. But if the other two legs, Iraqi political reconciliation and the buildup of the Iraqi forces, are not synchronized with that, then it’s questionable as to how well it’s going to be able to do, will it succeed?
MR. RUSSERT: You agree?
AMB. CROCKER: It is certainly the case that the surge by itself does not fix the problem. The surge buys time for a political process to get some legs under it, buys time for what Secretary Powell describes rightly as the buildup of Iraqi security force capabilities. The Iraqis are very much in this fight, as you know. They are taking casualties at a much higher rate than, than our forces are in Baghdad and elsewhere, and in the process, clearly, clearly learning a tremendous amount about how to deal with complex security situations. How, how well and thoroughly they assimilate all this, again, we’re going to have to see. But it’s giving them the opportunity. And then, of course, the process of reconciliation is key, and I—and we talked about that a few minutes ago. I think there’s, you know, there’s frustration on some levels, an absence of progress rather clearly in the legislative arena.
On the other hand, we are seeing the leadership able to come together at a time of really grave crisis, after the Samarra bombing, and agree who the enemy is, agree what the strategy is, and agree on a way forward. So, again, it’s, it’s a mixed picture, by certainly by not any means a hopeless one.
Here is the entire Crocker interview transcript.