Previewing the Petraeus Report

Jacki Lyden speaks with Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, about the testimony Gen. David Petraeus will give this week to Congress on the United States' future involvement in Iraq.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Official in Washington is gearing up for tomorrow's testimony on Capitol Hill by the U.S. Commander in Iraq General David Petraeus and the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker. But there's little real suspense: News reports this weekend said General Petraeus will argue for keeping U.S. troops levels high, less the progress made so far be lost. And President Bush has indicated he intends to stay the course in Iraq.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have already made up their minds. This morning, on Fox News Sunday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says he believes the surge strategy is absolutely working. Senator Graham just returned from two weeks on Air Force reserved duty in Iraq.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): Security is better in Iraq than it's been before. Anbar has been retaken from the enemy. Al-Qaida is on the run. We're now dealing with the militia groups on the Shia side. Iran wants to fill a vacuum. It is our international security interest to make sure there is no vacuum. So yes, I'm very pleased for the results of the surge. There's local political reconciliation. The people in Iraq are war-weary. It won't be long until Baghdad politicians follow through with major reconciliation. In my opinion, I think it has worked.

LYDEN: We heard a very different take from Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. I spoke with him earlier about what he expects from this week's hearings.

Senator Levin, your colleague, Senator Dick Durbin, has said that the Bush-Petraeus Report, as he's called it, will manipulate statistics. As General Petraeus prepares to address your committee, Senator Levin, do you share your Democratic colleague's skepticism or do you expect a completely honest assessment?

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan; Chairman, Senate Committee on Armed Services): Well, there's going to be disagreement over the degree of progress of the surge. Military, there's different statistics that are coming from the administration than the general accounting office is giving us. There's going to be disagreement over whether or not the progress in Anbar province is the result of the surge or whether or not the Sunni Sheiks in Anbar province, the side that even before the surge that they just had enough of al-Qaida. There will be disagreement over progress military inside of Baghdad. What - there's a consensus I know. And were there's no disagreement is on the key issue which is the surge is not achieved its political purpose. Remember the stated purpose by the president of this surge was to give the politicians in Iraq the breathing space to reshape political settlement, which is absolutely essential to the end of the violence.

LYDEN: Numerous experts have warned of massacres, even genocide if the U.S. exits Iraq. Doesn't the United States have a moral obligation to the Iraqi people?

Sen. LEVIN: I think, first of all, we've carried out more than our moral obligation. We've been there four and a half years. Plus over almost 4,000 troops now, seven times that many wounded, approximately. We're spending $10 billion a month. We spend over a half a trillion dollars to give them an opportunity to create a nation.

We've been there longer than we were fighting World War II or fighting the Korean war, so only way to end it and everybody agrees to this. Everyone agrees. General Petraeus will agree to this. The only way to end the violence in Iraq is that if the Iraqi politicians work out their political difference. And so that being the case, we've got to put the pressure on them to do what only they can do.

LYDEN: The Democratic Party won the majority in Congress last fall by running on a platform of ending the war. U.S. Involvement in Iraq is still at full tilt. President has given every indication that no matter what he hears this week form the Petraeus-Crocker report, he'll stay the course. So what do the Democrats do now to bring the public and surround to your point of view?

Sen. LEVIN: We just continue to express our view as forcefully as we new how. We obviously don't have 60 votes in the Senate. We have a majority. That majority spoke about a month ago, both in the Senate and the House. The majority in the Senate said that we should begin to promptly reduced the number of American troops there in transition into more limited missions and that we should complete that transition by next spring. That's what the majority of voted but there is a filibuster.

LYDEN: How far are you and other Democratic leaders willing to go to block funding of the war? Would you do a filibuster?

Sen. LEVIN: Well, we think we have the way, which is better than that. We're going to continue to fund our troops as long as their there. Our troops have the support of the American people and that includes Democrats as well as Republicans. Where the difference lies is whether the - is the policy of this administration and we can, by law, force the administration to begin to reduce American troops, the transition to the new mission. But in order to get a law passed, we've got to get to 60 vote.

LYDEN: So you're no longer talking about political timetables?

Sen. LEVIN: Oh, yeah. No. We are talking about a political timetable. The question is whether or not if we could make the endpoint of the timetable a goal rather than to make that binding, whether we could pick up enough additional Republican senators to overcome a filibuster. And that's something that I, as one senator, believe is worth exploring.

LYDEN: Senator Carl Levin is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Thank you very much for being with us today.

Sen. LEVIN: Than you so much.

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