White House Race Looms over Questions on Iraq

Sen. John McCain makes his opening statement on Tuesday. i i

Sen. John McCain makes his opening statement on Tuesday. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Wong/Getty Images
Sen. John McCain makes his opening statement on Tuesday.

Sen. John McCain makes his opening statement on Tuesday.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Barack Obama listens to opening remarks from General David Petraeus on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Wong/Getty Images

Four Democratic senators and one Republican running for president grilled Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in Senate hearings on Monday, as the pair sought to explain the situation on the ground in Iraq.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Joseph Biden of Delaware got the most time for questions. In an exchange with Petraeus, Biden pointed out that the political reconciliation in Iraq the troop surge was supposed to facilitate had failed to materialize:

"If in fact the circumstances on the ground are exactly what they are today in March of next year, will you recommend the continuation of somewhere between 130,000 and 160,000 American troops being shot at, killed and maimed every day there?" Biden asked.

"Mr. Chairman, I that's a pretty big hypothetical," the general responded.

"Well, I don't think it's hypothetical if they're to stay," said Biden.

"I would be very hard-pressed to recommend that at that point in time," Petraeus said.

Biden: "I would pray you'd be wise enough not to recommend it."

Sitting on the same panel was fellow Democratic candidate, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. He used six of his seven allotted minutes sounding as if he were trying to get the witnesses to agree that it is President Bush who is misleading the nation about progress in Iraq:

"We have the president in Australia suggesting somehow that we are, as was suggested before, kicking ... a-s-s, how can that, how can we have a president making that assessment," Obama said.

Christopher Dodd, the third Democratic presidential contender on the panel, waited until he had left the hearing room to advocate a deadline for bringing troops home.

"I'm not going to be supporting any more funding for Iraq in the absence of some date ... when you begin a withdrawal and when we complete it," Dodd said.

The sole Republican presidential contender quizzing Petraeus and Crocker, Sen. John McCain argued for years that more troops were needed in Iraq. He said nothing to Petraeus about the general's decision to pull back the thirty thousand troops sent for the surge by next July. Instead, McCain took aim at unnamed colleagues.

"Some senators would like to withdraw our troops from Iraq so we can get back to fighting what they believe to be the real war on terror — which is taking place somewhere else," McCain said, referring to criticism that Iraq has been a distraction from Afghanistan.

"This too is inaccurate. Iraq has become the central front in the global war on terror, and failure there would turn Iraq into a terrorist sanctuary in the heart of the middle east ... a host for jihadists planning attacks on America," he said.

Democrat Hillary Clinton, who is a member of the same panel, pointedly noted later that Osama Bin Laden is still at large. Like Obama, Clinton sought to put the onus not on Petraeus and Crocker, but on President Bush.

"You have been made the de facto spokesmen for what many of us believe to be a failed policy. Despite what I view as your rather extraordinary efforts in your testimony both yesterday and today, I think that the reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief," Clinton said.

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