MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Much has been made about the timing of today's Senate Iraq hearings. Critics of the Bush administration point out this is yet another attempt to connect 9/11 and the Iraq war. This morning it was a Democrat, Joseph Biden, who invoked the memory of the attacks.
Senator JOSEPH BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): I'd like you all to please join me at the beginning of this hearing for a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11.
BRAND: After opening statements, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker followed up on the assessment they began yesterday in the House.
And joining us now is NPR's defense correspondent Guy Raz. And Guy, what's happened so far today?
GUY RAZ: Well, Madeleine, I think the two men in the hot seats - General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker - have basically repeated, you know, a lot of the same arguments they made yesterday; that is, on the security side there is some tactical momentum. And on the political side, you know, there are some signs that reconciliation, at least on the national level, could eventually take place.
But overall, you know, these two officials are facing really a far more skeptical, and I would say a far less partisan panel of lawmakers today than they faced yesterday in front of the House.
BRAND: So tell us more about this audience. What kinds of questions are they receiving from the senators?
RAZ: You know, what's been striking to me sort of watching this so far today is how uniform the criticism and the skepticism has been among the senators, really from both sides of the political aisle. You have to remember that Petraeus and Crocker are facing four Vietnam veterans, five presidential candidates - with my count - and really a far less united Republican contingent than they faced in the House yesterday.
The members of the Senate are much better versed on what's happening in Iraq. They're much better versed on foreign policy than their counterparts in the House. And so the line of questioning is far tougher, really.
BRAND: Well, let's hear from one of those Republicans, Senator Chuck Hagel.
Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): Are we going to continue to invest American blood and treasure at the same rate we are doing now? For what? The president said let's buy time. Buy time? For what?
BRAND: Well, that sounds pretty pointed. What was the response?
RAZ: Mm-hmm. Well, first of all, you know, this is Chuck Hagel unbound. I mean, he's a Republican, but he is one who's been critical of the administration's stewardship of Iraq for a while. And of course he's just announced that he won't seek reelection. So he's not really worried about, you know, what the administration is going to say about what he said. Hagel fought in Vietnam. He understands the military very well. And so he has a certain perspective that I think a lot of members of Congress don't actually have.
You know, the other thing I think worth noting is that Hagel was really the first one over the course of the past two days to point out the problems in southern Iraq. You know, he noted that law and order is essentially absent in that part of the country, you know, and that the British have essential taken their 5,000 troops in that part of the country and holed them up in the middle of the Basra Airport.
General Petraeus very deftly sort of avoided addressing that directly, talking about the south as an example of Iraqis finding an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem.
BRAND: You know, Guy, for weeks we've been hearing the words much anticipated and long-awaited about this hearings. Have they lived up to the hype?
RAZ: Well, I don't think they were ever going to. But I don't think it minimizes the importance and the historical significance of this testimony. It basically lays down a marker, and a marker we can revisit when these two men come back to testify in front of the Senate, presumably early next year.
BRAND: NPR's defense correspondent Guy Raz. Thank you very much.
RAZ: Thank you.
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