Defense & National Security

Circus Maximus

Any objective observer who watched or read, this week’s House and Senate testimony of General David Petraeus, received an informative assessment of the situation on the battlefield in Mesopotamia. Our top military commander in Iraq proffered a cool, level-headed report on successes and failures to date, gave his assessment of the challenges ahead and provided rational recommendations for the future.

By contrast, America’s Democrats gave the world a revealing look at the depths they are willing to plumb in their insatiable quest for raw political power. In what transpired before and during these hearings, Democrats made transparent their willingness to destroy anyone or anything that interferes with their designs.

During a telephone conversation three days before General Petraeus sat down next to Ambassador Ryan Crocker in the Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office building, my friend, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) told me that Democrats were conducting a “guerrilla campaign of character assassination” to impugn the General and that it would culminate with “a frontal attack” on his integrity. Congressman Hunter posited that based on my personal experience in a similar atmosphere, I would understand. But not even I could gauge how low the Democrats had sunk or how vicious they have become.

On Monday morning – just hours before the first day of hearings – the New York Times published a full-page ad paid for by MoveOn.org – the leftist, anti-U.S. military organization that has become a major financial and propaganda organ for Democrats. The text, below a photo of the General read: “General Petraeus or General Betray-Us? Cooking the Books for the White House.” The clear implication of the ad was that a dishonest General, doing the bidding of the Bush Administration, was going to dissemble before the Congress and could not be trusted to tell the truth.

The hearings began with a familiar routine: shrill diatribes from Democrat committee chairmen Ike Skelton and Tom Lantos who lectured and hectored the General – denouncing the campaign in Iraq in general and General Petraeus in particular. Mr. Lantos, who had once stood steadfast with the Reagan Administration against communism, launched a pre-emptive strike on the battlefield commander’s testimony before he’d ever seen or heard it with a dismissively insulting: “I don’t buy it.”

Then, the cabal that wants to abandon the war against radical Islam demonstrated their competence. They couldn’t even get the General’s microphone to work. While the world waited to hear what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker would say, more than half a dozen anti-U.S. military protesters had their way.

Allowed to enter the hearing room dressed in pink, the activists jumped up screaming obscenities and denouncing America – before being finally escorted from the chamber. Those who speculate that the muted microphones and the protests were orchestrated by the Democrats running the show have reason to wonder.

When General Petraeus was finally afforded the opportunity to speak he defended his words as his own. "This is my testimony, although I have briefed my assessment and recommendations to my chain of command, I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared by nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House or the Congress until it was just handed out," he said. By then, the damage had already been done. Committee members like Mr. Lantos barely glanced at the detailed charts that accompanied the Petraeus presentation. At times, the Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee appeared to be having trouble staying awake.

In the aftermath, some of my older “media colleagues” and even a member of Congress sympathetically opined that the treatment General Petraeus received was reminiscent of another hearing twenty years ago this summer. They are wrong.

What happened this week to General Petraeus – and less directly to Ambassador Crocker – was far worse than what transpired two decades ago on Capitol Hill during the Iran-Contra hearings. When Admiral John Poindexter and I testified, we weren’t in command. By the summer of 1987 the Admiral and I were simply staff officers – summoned to testify about past events. That’s entirely different from the smear that took place this week.

General Petraeus commands more than 160,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines who are in the field, battling a brutal enemy in the midst of a long, hard campaign. He was summoned – not “sent” as Mr. Lantos alleged – to testify about current and future operations. Troops who have to face death daily, wearing flak jackets in 120 degree heat, watched and listened in barracks, bunkers and command-posts as their leader was denigrated, demeaned and belittled by the majority party in Congress.

Such abusive treatment of a U.S. battlefield commander not only demoralizes our troops and disheartens our allies – it is a great encouragement to our enemies as well. Tellingly, the day after the hearings ended, Sheikh Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, the Sunni leader credited by General Petraeus as the leader of the revolt against al-Qaeda, was assassinated by a bomb planted in his home. President Bush, who met the brave Sheikh in Al Anbar two weeks ago, immediately expressed his condolences. The Democrats couldn’t be bothered.

Democrats have now shown the world that they will denigrate and destroy anyone or anything to placate their far-left, deep-pocket donors. Do the American people really want this party in power?

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