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There's word today that President Bush will take the recommendation of the top American commander on Iraq and announce a troop reduction plan later this week. The president will address the nation Thursday and the Associated Press reports that Mr. Bush will say that with continued progress some 30,000 troops will come home by next summer.
That drawdown was proposed by General David Petraeus who was on Capitol Hill again today along with Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. They faced a panel of senators, many of who were skeptical of the assessment of the war and the state of the Iraqi government.
Here's NPR's Guy Raz.
GUY RAZ: Over the course of the day in testimony to the Senate, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker faced four Vietnam veterans, five presidential candidates, angry Democrats and a Republican contingent somewhat divided over Iraq.
The two men delivered the same testimony today but their interrogators were far less forgiving than their counterparts in the House of Representatives. If any of the senators expected a categorical answer on how long America's involvement in Iraq would last, they were left disappointed.
Here's Delaware Democrat Joe Biden posing a question to Ambassador Crocker.
Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): Should we be telling the American people that we're there for another three, four, five, six, seven, ten years in relatively large numbers? What do you mean by it will not be quick?
Ambassador RYAN CROCKER (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): I think in the past we've set some expectations that simply couldn't be met, and I'm trying not to do that.
RAZ: The same question would come again and again and again. Here's New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez.
Senator ROBERT MENENDEZ (Democrat, New Jersey): If the commander in chief said to you, General Petraeus, how many more years do American soldiers have to continue in Iraq, what would your answer to him be?
General DAVID PETRAEUS (Commander, Multi-National Force-Iraq): I would give a forthright answer, Senator, which is that I cannot predict that, and I cannot do that to you here either...
Sen. MENENDEZ: And if he pressed you, clearly, you would give - he would - you would be able to give him some timeline...
Gen. PETRAEUS: I would not, sir.
Sen. MENENDEZ: ...two years, five years...
Gen. PETRAEUS: Sir, I would be doing a disservice to our soldiers if I tried to lay out a specific timeline at this point that took us all the way out.
RAZ: If Petraeus and Crocker expected Republicans to cut them some slack, it wasn't going to happen. From the outset of today's testimony, several key Republican lawmakers questioned the wisdom of the current Iraq strategy. Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel was among the most pointed in his remarks.
Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): Are we going to continue to invest American blood and treasure at the same rate we're doing now? For what? The president says let's buy time. Buy time? For what?
RAZ: Sitting next to Hagel, Indiana Republican Richard Lugar who, earlier this summer, broke with the administration's Iraq policy, noted that in his view strategic patience is not a strategy.
Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican, Indiana): It is not enough for the administration to counsel patience until the next milestone or the next report. We need to see a strategy for how our troops and other resources in Iraq might be employed to fundamentally change the equation.
RAZ: A part of that equation is the strain of extended deployments on U.S. troops. And Virginia Democrat Jim Webb, a Vietnam veteran himself, asked Petraeus whether he was considering the long-term impact of those extensions on the troops.
Senator JIM WEBB (Democrat, Virginia): Somewhere in here, in my view, there has to be the notion that after four and a half years in Iraq, we need to be shaping the operational environment to the wellbeing - on a floor for our troops.
Gen. PETRAEUS: Senator, that is, as I mentioned, that is something that very much informed my recommendation.
RAZ: That recommendation he made is to cut the current level of U.S. forces in Iraq by about a quarter over the next nine months. Petraeus and Crocker probably achieved what they had hoped for at the outset of their testimony -more time for the current strategy, but a strategy whose success neither man was willing to guarantee.
Guy Raz, NPR News, Washington.
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