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It was expected that the top Americans in Iraq would say the situation is better. The question is whether they can prove it?
General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are asking Congress for more time.
We'll check some of their statements after this report from NPR's Guy Raz.
GUY RAZ: About four hours into his testimony yesterday, General Petraeus hit his stride.
General DAVID PETRAEUS (U.S. Commander in Iraq): I'm going to be upfront. You know, none of us want to stay in Iraq forever. We all want to come home. We all have days of frustration and all the rest of that. But what we want to do is come home in the right way.
RAZ: By five in the afternoon, the weary general was relaxed. He'd already been sitting in front of lawmakers for four and a half hours. But it wasn't how the day began. The atmosphere inside the hearing room was charged.
California Democrat Tom Lantos vented some of the frustration many in his party clearly share.
Representative Tom Lantos (Democrat, California): This is not a knock on you, General Petraeus or on you Ambassador Crocker. But the fact remains, gentlemen, that the administration has sent to you here today to convince the members of these two committees and the Congress that victory is at hand. With all due respect to you, I must say, I don't buy it.
RAZ: That frustration was a two-way street though. The general's perfect posture and expressionless gaze betrayed little of his own irritation.
Monday morning, Petraeus opened the New York Times to discover an advertisement placed by an anti-war group wondering whether he'd become General Betray-us, whether his testimony was simply White House spin.
Gen. PETRAEUS: Although I have briefed my assessment and recommendations to my chain of command, I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared by nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House, or the Congress until it was just handed out.
RAZ: He went on to site a flurry of statistics to support his claim that the surge is producing measurable results. For example, in nearly every category: overall attacks, civilian casualties, ethno sectarian deaths - Petraeus pointed to a recent downward trend. And he seemed to preempt any anticipated attack on his own numbers.
Gen. PETRAEUS: Two U.S. intelligence agencies recently reviewed our methodology and they concluded that the data we produce is the most accurate and authoritative in Iraq.
RAZ: Ambassador Crocker was less categorical. On the political side, the situation was not promising, he said, but while…
Mr. RYAN CROCKER (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): Our current course is hard. The alternatives are far worse.
RAZ: And this seemed to sum up the sentiments of both men that while America's continued presence in Iraq was far from ideal, the alternatives, they argued, weren't any better.
Petraeus insisted that the U.S. military ought to continue the emphasis on securing Iraq's population. Crocker argued that with time, a form of national political accommodation could be reached. But though Crocker sat beside the General, it was really Petraeus' show. And as the hours wore on, the general seemed to relish the moment.
At one point, California Democrat Brad Sherman asked whether the general would defy the president if Congress passed a law limiting the extent of military operations.
Gen. PETRAEUS: Congressman, and not trying to be flip, what I would do is consult my lawyer.
RAZ: Towards the end of the marathon's six-hour session, few of the House members seem inclined to challenge Petraeus. He knows many of them and many of the members fondly recalled their own visits with the general in Iraq.
Monday's testimony, to some extent, was just a dress rehearsal for today when the two men will face a far more critical audience on the Senate side.
Guy Raz, NPR News, Washington.
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