And They’re Off!

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Following on Jonathan’s summary of the GAO report findings, I attended the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting this afternoon in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Senator Kerry presided over the meeting, joined by colleagues Lugar, Feingold, and Hagel, among others. Testifying was U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker, who led GAO staff in preparing the report.

Microphones continually cut out as the senators expressed their frustration with how poorly things are going in Iraq. The question was put to Walker repeatedly of whether recent progress in Anbar province would be sustainable in the absence of U.S. troops. The general feeling appeared to be no. Walker did not argue the point.

It was striking how uniform the senators were in their pessimism. Only Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota, challenged Walker on his findings. Coleman, who had just returned from Baghdad after spending the weekend with General Petraeus, said that the general had shown him data suggesting the number of enemy attacks declined during the month of August. Kerry interrupted, pointing out that, historically, the month of August is usually quiet. Coleman responded that the numbers he had seen in Baghdad were undeniable and compensated for any seasonal fluctuation in insurgent activity. Walker admitted that he had not seen the numbers for August (despite requesting them), but that anecdotal information suggested that there was no discernible downturn in the overall number of attacks.

Aside from Coleman, however, the senators did not argue against GAO’s findings. If anything, they pushed Walker further. Lugar said that, by all appearances, the Iraqis don’t seem to want to be part of a unified Iraq. If true, he said, “then we have an awesome problem.” Later, Hagel asked whether the Iraqi government could be described as functional, whether it could defend, support, and govern itself. Walker’s response: “I think I would have to say it’s dysfunctional. The government is dysfunctional.”

It was then that I saw what appeared to be an Iraqi diplomat, who had been sitting quietly in the back of the room, get up and leave.

More hearings on the GAO report tomorrow…

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