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Obama: What Is Success in Iraq?

In a fitting end to the day, Spencer’s gone to play a show with his band, The Surge.

He had to leave before Barack Obama got his turn to question Petraeus and Crocker. (In a nice little gesture, Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a Clinton supporter, traded his question time with Obama, perhaps giving him a shot of making the evening news.)

Obama was sharp and focussed, pushing a bit on how success will be defined in Iraq.

“If one of our criteria for success is that Al Qaeda does not have a base of operations in Iraq,” he said, what does that really mean? Not a single trace of Al Qaeda, or just not the ability to launch attacks? Would it be OK if they were still present, but in numbers that the Iraqi security force could control?

“I just want to harden a little bit the metrics by which we are measuring that,” Obama said. Petraeus assured him the goal wasn’t total elimination, but just weakening Al Qaeda enough use Iraq as a base to launch operations.

Obama pressed a similar point on relations between Iran and Iraq, asking for more detail on what would be acceptable relations between the two countries.

“We have no problem with a good constructive relationship between Iran and Iraq,” Crocker said. The problem comes with what he called the “Iranian strategy of backing extremist militia groups,” sending in munitions that can be used against Iraqis — and US forces.

But Obama made best use of the spotlight with his closing remarks, when he said finite resources mean “you’ve got to define your goals tightly and modestly.”

In a question that Crocker and Petraeus didn’t answer — but Biden vowed to press them on later — Obama asked, “If we were able to have the status quo in Iraq right now,” would that be an adequate definition of success?

“I’m trying to get to an endpoint,” Obama said, then complained about the current policy: “The definition of success is so high.”

Crocker’s reply: “This is hard and this is complicated.”

Let’s hope Biden really does try again on that question.

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