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April 08, 2008

Obama's cordial smackdown of Crocker and Petraeus
Posted by Max Bergmann

While it seemed very cordial, Obama was able to hit Petraeus and Crocker very hard. Obama took them down a path. First, on Al Qaeda on Iraq. He got Petraeus to agree with him that the total elimination of Al Qaeda is an impossible standard for withdrawal. Next he goes after Crocker's points about Iranian influence, pointing out that both Iran and Al Qaeda  are in Iraq because we invaded and that we can not expect to eliminate Iranian involvement.

Then came the hammer. Obama pointed out that if the definition of success is put so high - no Al Qaeda, no Iranian influence, a prosperous diverse democracy we will be there forever. He then points out that we still, after 8 hours of testimony, have no definition of success. And he points out, something that we have been saying all day, they have no definition of success.

Crocker's weak response its "hard and complicated."

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Obama also brought up the issue of finite resources again, and this is key. Crocker's attitude is "we'll be done when we're done, and no one can really say when that it, what being "done" is supposed to look like, or how much it will cost to get there." The issue of the refusal to accept the reality of finite resources together with the poorly defined outline of a tolerable end state should spell deep trouble for Crocker's position. The Senators need to keep hammering away at this point in the next round.

Take any organization: a business, a government department, a foundation. Then say to them, "Here is a vaguely defined goal. Your job is to accomplish that goal to your own satisfaction, using whatever personal, private metrics you like. Your budget is effectively unlimited. If you don't feel you have accomplished the goal, just keep requesting money and more will be forthcoming." What do you think will happen? The job will never get done, of course. If you allow people to keep defining their own goals and to keep writing blank checks along the way, you just get a permanently unmet goal and an infinite sequence of blank checks.

I keep hearing a lot of talk about ultimatums for the Iraqis. But how about if the US Congress, the branch of government charged with managing the government's purse, finally gives an ultimatum to the executive branch? At some point shouldn't they just say, "Here's how much money we're giving you to finish this job. When the money is gone, you're done. So do the best you can, and then wrap it up."

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