A 'Conditions-Based' Answer

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Several senators asked Gen. David H. Petraeus when and under what conditions he would recommend further reductions of U.S. forces from Iraq, after an assessment this summer. The general's responses, as an exchange with Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) shows, were less than specific.

Bayh:"My final question to you would be, is it not possible to at least offer some rough estimate about when we will be able to, after this brief pause, recommence extricating ourselves by withdrawing more troops from Iraq, down to some longer-term level? Is it just impossible to offer any rough estimate?

Petraeus:"Senator, if you believe, as I do, and the commanders on the ground believe, that the way forward on reduction should be conditions-based, then it is just flat not responsible to try to put down a stake in the ground and say, 'This is when it will be,' or, 'That is when it will be,' with respect."

Bayh:"I understand that, General. Many Americans will listen to that and believe this to be an open-ended commitment because, by definition, we won't know until we get there. And there have been so many ups and downs in this thing. I think it's a fair estimate to say that when this began, most did not assume that we'd be sitting here five years on with the conditions that we currently have.

"And so, again, I'm just trying to give the American people a fair judgment about where we stand and what the likely way forward is. And I guess the best answer to that is, we'll know when we get there and we don't know when we're going to get there."

Petraeus:"Senator, as I just said, we have, we believe, the appropriate way, based on the military commanders on the ground, to sustain and build on the progress that has been achieved over the course of the last 12 or 15 months, is to make reductions when the conditions allow you to do that without unduly risking all that we've fought so hard to achieve."

Bayh:"And we don't know when that point will be?"

Petraeus:"Senator, when the conditions are met is when that point is."

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