04/07/2008 04:27 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Only Question For General Petraeus That Might Actually End The War

Several articles have appeared with superb questions for General Petraeus when he appears before the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees this week, seeking the next $100B dollop of cash for this debacle. These are geared to getting admissions from Petraeus about what is really happening, or what the honest prospects are in the future, in Iraq.

These are clearly important, and will underscore why we should withdraw our troops from Iraq. General Odom testified eloquently about this during the last week.

That, however, will not end the war.

And ending the war should be the goal of the Democrats -- nothing less is victory.

Republicans in the Senate will filibuster anything that places limitations on Bush/Cheney/Petraeus; and, even if something passed, Bush will veto the legislation and there are not enough votes to override. For any Democrat to vote for withdrawal will open them up to public and political attack, meaning they are less likely to do what it right unfortunately.

Thus, the only legislative strategy for the Democrats is to pursue the 'zero option' -- this has been an option the Democrats have had since January 2007 when this Congress was sworn in, but it is an option that the Democrats have failed to consider -- to our country's great detriment. Unless the Democrats are willing to stop funding the war and to not bring a new funding bill to the table -- the "zero option' and that willingness is credible, there will be increased funding, continued slaughter, and we will be deeper into the quicksand of this disastrous war.

In order to invoke the 'zero option', Democrats need a 'backbone transplant'. They continue to live in fear of the Republican attack machines claiming they were unpatriotic, leaving our troops without ammunition, without body armor, without gasoline for the vehicles, without food, without water, but nonetheless in frontline positions in harms' way.

The question to General Petraeus, therefore, is designed to immunize the Democrats from that fear (the Republicans will lie regardless of what Petraeus says), and, based upon what we believe Petraeus's likely response will be, actually turn the tide against further funding.


"General Petraeus, you are here seeking an additional appropriation of $100B to support the Iraq and Afghanistan war efforts, most for Iraq. You obviously realize, therefore, that one of the alternatives is for us not to provide that funding. With that in mind, I would like to ask you whether you would order your troops into harms' way if they are not given the resources you request."

Petraeus's likely response (after expressing hope that that does not occur): "That is up to the president".

Follow-up: "General Petraeus, the president says he listens to the recommendations of his commanders on the ground. That's you. So, let me re-phrase the question: What would you recommend to the President under those circumstances?".

Petraeus will not, of course, give a definitive answer. But, his lack of a definitive answer is itself a definitive answer.

Follow-up: "General Petraeus, your troops and their loved ones, and the American people, and this Senate, are shocked that you, as the commander in whom we have all placed our trust for the safety and proper deployment of our young men and women, cannot even tell us that you would not place them in harms' way if we in Congress decided that we would not appropriate the resources to keep them there. That, General, is shocking."

Whether or not this is the precise direction this exchange takes, the key point is to surface the issue about the impact of halting funding on the safety of our troops. It has never been asked; and, it has been answered by implied threats from the administration -- a Commander-in-Chief who checked the "no" box on whether he would volunteer for overseas duty after Daddy enabled him to jump the queue to get him into the reserves -- that they would play chicken with our soldiers.

No matter which way the administration finally answers this question, they lose. If they say they would expose the troops to the increased risks when their resources are not renewed, the entire country would revolt. If they admit they would not do that, the Democrats' backbone transplant will 'take', and they can proceed to wind down this war.

It also changes the core conversation to a point that the media has to cover; instead of forcing the Democrats to talk about why withdrawal, it forces the Republicans to talk about why they want the war. The longer they have to defend the slaughter, the deaths and the mistake, the more credible the zero option becomes.

Let us not be less diligent because we can foresee greater majorities and/or a new President in 2009.

For our troops, that is a long time away, far, far far too long.