Ambassador Ryan Crocker tried to persuade a skeptical Senate Foreign Relations committee Thursday that the Iraqi government is making admirable progress towards political reconciliation, speaking to the senators via satellite link-up from Baghdad.
Crocker told the Senate panel that the Iraqi government has overcome great obstacles in achieving advances thus far, but faced difficulties in legislating despite the level of violence plaguing the country. The Ambassador said that the environment at every level of society could be summarized with one word: fear.
"For Iraq to move forward at any level, that fear is going to have to be replaced with some level of trust, confidence and that is what the effort at the national level is about," he said.
Crocker warned that the 18 benchmarks, which have become the critical marks for assessment, can't capture the real nature of Iraqi progress.
"The longer I am here, the more I am persuaded that progress in Iraq cannot be analyzed solely in terms of these discreet, precisely defined benchmarks," he said. "In many cases, these benchmarks do not serve as reliable measures of everything that is important — Iraqi attitudes toward each other and their willingness to work toward political reconciliation."
The Ambassador appealed to the Senators that the Iraqi government will need patience and support if it is to continue with its work, and warned of the potential for an increase in the violence and an empowerment of al Qaeda if the US were to withdraw.
Despite the Ambassador's presentation, he faced repeated reminders from the panel that American patience is running thin. Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) initially supported the surge's intent of creating enough stability so the Iraqi government could push through political reforms, only recently becoming one of a number of senior Republicans to declare the strategy a failure.
The Ohio Senator told Crocker that if he was in the President's position, he would call Iraqi leaders into a room together to tell them that time is running out. "We are buying time at the cost of the lives of our soldiers and the lives of Iraqi soldiers and they need to honor that sacrifice by moving their country forward," he said.
Voinovich said this is the government chance to work towards genuine progress, so Iraqi leaders must be told very clearly: "We have to disengage. It's inevitable. Take advantage of this wonderful opportunity that you have."
Committee chairman Joe Biden (D-DE) underscored the message for the Ambassador to communicate to the Iraqis, telling Crocker the bottom line is: "We're not staying. We're not staying. (There's) not much time. Political benchmarks must be met or we'll have traded a dictator for chaos."
About 200 lawmakers were also invited to the Pentagon for a classified satellite briefing with Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus on Thursday. Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, Bush's war czar, was also scheduled to attend.