POLITICS

Webb And Petraeus Square Off Over Iran Diplomacy (VIDEO)

05/30/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Spencer Ackerman, writing for the Washington Independent highlights two key portions of today's confirmation hearings for Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno, fueled by tenacious questioning from Democratic Senator Jim Webb, who continues to be a firm source of well-informed, yet softly stated pushback to the administration's foreign policy follies.

Webb went back and forth with Odierno, working to pin him down on what the "endpoint" of the military mission in Iraq was supposed to resemble and what conditions could precipitate the end of our occupation. Via Windy:

Webb isn't satisfied. But what does U.S. military mission in iraq look like, even if those conditions are met? "It'll adjust over time. We'll have less and less responsibility for drect combat... Over time, we'll change to advisory missions." But how long will that take? "It's unknown... I think that's a policy decision, how long we'd want to have contact with the Iraqi government in future."

But what's the endpoint? Say U.S. meets all these conditions. Should there be a continued U.S. presence there? "That's a discussion... for policy." Webb won't let it go! What do you think, Gen. Odierno? Will there be a need for the U.S. military in Iraq if those conditions are met? "I do not." Finally.

Now that's how an adult asks a question.

Then he turned to Petraeus, skeptically critiquing the general's use of the word "malign" as a means of describing "Iranian influence," and asked the general, "Would you agree that historically one of the realities we have do deal with is some sort of Iranian influence in the region?" Petraeus agreed, offering the caveat that he's hope such influence would be "constructive."

WEBB: General Petraeus, there's some language in response to questions that were submitted to you for the record that go to Iran that I would like to get some clairifcation or give you the oipportunity to clarfify. You use the word malign as an adjective, as someone who's written nine books, I'm trying to struggle with how this fits in to what you're saying here. You say we will continue to expose you the extent of Iran's malign activity in Iraq, and then you say on the next page, our efforts in regard to Iran must involve generating international cooperation and building consensus to counter malign Iranian influence, and then you speak about its...there are consequences for its illegitimate influence in the region. Can you clarify for us...how are you using those words?

PETRAEUS: I can, Senator. What I'm talking about there I am characterizing that influence, it is malign and it is lethal and it is illegitimate. The arming, training, funding, and directing of militia extremists who have killed our soldiers...is very malign indeed it's the same situation with what they're doing...

WEBB: In the interest of time, here, because you've given those answers, would you agree that historically one of the realities we have do deal with is some sort of Iranian influence in the region? I'm not talking about the specific military incidents. I am talking about the reality of dealing with the region.

PETRAEUS: I have always stated, in fact, that there will be Iranian influence and that the hope is that the Iranian influence is constructive...

Webb turned on that and began laying out the case that such "constructive" influence was more likely to be achieved through diplomatic contact with Iran, "We would hope," Webb said, "that we would be able to see some creative leadership in terms of how to bring a different set of diplomatic circumstances into play." Using his command of history, Webb drew a fitting comparison with China (like Iran, "rogue...with nukes, with an American war on its border"), who were similarly engaged in "malign" influence of the war in Vietnam. Petraeus managed to run out the clock without offering much in terms of substance in response, but after a week of the Bush administration painting any sort of diplomacy as appeasement, Webb got a vital argument to the contrary on the record.

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