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The General Does Battle With . . . a Broken Mike

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Republicans, lacking Democrats on the panel with whom to quarrel, instead took aim at the liberal group MoveOn.org, which had a full-page ad in the New York Times calling Petraeus "General Betray Us."

"I think it's an outrage," said Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

A prematurely overwrought Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) added in her opening statement: "I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to publicly denounce the ad." When nobody heeded her recommendation, she later urged colleagues anew.

"Point of order," interrupted Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii). "Nobody has to distance themselves from something they weren't associated with."

"Take it easy," replied Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Actually, the left would more credibly be accused of taking it too easy -- on Petraeus. There was no protest visible outside the Cannon Building -- unless you count the man in the devil costume with the sign that read "I've got Petraeus by the soul." A "dog and pony show" promised by MoveOn failed to materialize; when Eve Fairbanks of the New Republic finally tracked down the show, she encountered only a few hounds and the rumor of a person wearing a horse suit.

Part of the antiwar crowd's trouble was that General Betray Us didn't sound like a warmonger. Though trying to punt until March a decision about major troop reductions, he leavened his remarks with soothing phrases such as "I have recommended a drawdown of the surge forces from Iraq" and "Force reductions will continue beyond the pre-surge levels."

The abundant love for the mild general must have irked a dozen or so demonstrators in the back two rows of the chamber. First came a woman from Code Pink, evicted from the room for shouting "War criminal!" Then Ray McGovern, a former intelligence analyst, was removed for hollering, "Swear him in!" After a third heckler interrupted the proceedings, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) requested that Skelton "get them out of here."

"You don't have to lecture me," Skelton snapped. "They'll be gone." But they weren't. Petraeus's opening statement, and subsequent questioning, were interrupted by several more shouts ("That's a lie! . . . Warmongering! . . . We are slaughtering the Iraqi people!"). By late afternoon, a Capitol Police officer brandishing a shotgun was patrolling the line of people waiting for seats in the room.

Of course, the hecklers' disruptions were minor compared with the technical problems. Soon after the microphone failure caused a 15-minute delay, the lights in the room flickered, and several went out. Then came another microphone problem in the first row.

In fact, the only predictable element of the afternoon was the consistency of the praise for Petraeus.

"Thank you for your hard work, your skill and your dedication," Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.) said. Twice.

"You are the all-star team," added Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.).

Even those who criticized the Bush administration went out of their way to exempt the general. Lantos argued that the president has no credibility, then quickly added, "This is not a knock on you, General Petraeus." Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) said the troop increase has "failed" and accused Petraeus of "cherry picking" before adding, "You are a true patriot."

It was, in all, a welcome befitting a Roman general. Better, even: Petraeus didn't even have to endure, as Roman generals did, the slave holding the crown over his head and whispering in his ear: Sic transit gloria mundi.

All glory is fleeting.


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