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How Not To Ask Questions of Petraeus And Crocker

Some Congressman named Smith had two great questions and he stepped over them birth. First, he asked, is our occupation provocative of violence? (Human experience, and the experience of Iraq, would say of course it is.)

Petraeus, too clever for all that, answered a question about what our presence means for Iraqi self-sufficiency over security. “It’s very akin, Congressman, to the idea that we might hold them back in security tasks as well,” he parried. “It’s another area where we’re constantly looking, is this the time to allow them to get into the deep end, where we’ll be there if necessary, but how long do you need to hang on to the bicycle seat?”

Smith, unsatisfied, reiterated: “So do you think our presence is motivating insurgents?” Yet couldn’t stop to actually get an answer to the question — a question that, if answered honestly, would have put the Bush administration in a tight spot. A meander about the occupation provoking Iran led to a question about whether we were choosing sides between Shiite factions.

Crocker rode to Petraeus’s relief, saying that Iraqis viewed the Basra fight between the Badr Corps, the Iraqi security forces, the U.S. and Sadr as “the government against extremist militias.” An even more dubious contention: “That’s what has fused political support for Prime Minister Maliki and his government in way I haven’t seen since I’ve been there.” Smith should have stuck to one question if he actually wanted an answer.

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