Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) pushed both Crocker and Petraeus to disentangle Iraq from Al Qaeda. Neither enjoyed it. Indeed, when he asked Petraeus for his thoughts, the general quietly told Crocker, “Go ahead.”
Crocker led with a crock. “Al Qaeda [was] well on its way to have the kind of base or save haven, unthreatened, to do the kind of strategic planning against us here,” he said. There’s no evidence for that. None.
Petraeus: “I think it’s important to remember what Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden have repeatedly stated that the central front of their global war of terror is in Iraq.” Stop right there, Feingold said: isn’t their safe haven in Pakistan more significant? “I believe that, I go with our intelligence analysts because our focus is in Iraq.”
Feingold knows very well it’s unfair to ask Petraeus questions above the general’s pay grade — or maybe it’s not, since the general has occasionally today waded into the territory of national strategy. But Feingold kept pressing him to make a judgment about overall national security, rather than Iraq, in order to get Petraeus to say the war is a sideshow. And there he ended up making his point: referencing the 2004 bin Laden speech that secured Bush’s reelection, Feingold pointed out that Al Qaeda wants to bankrupt the U.S. by entangling it in Iraq, much as its Afghan allies in the 1980s did to the Soviet Union.