From the GOP, the General Gets Unfriendly Fire

Gen. David Petraeus: Hostile questioning from a new source.
Gen. David Petraeus: Hostile questioning from a new source. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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By Dana Milbank
Thursday, April 10, 2008

What does Gen. David Petraeus have in common with the alleged D.C. Madam? More than you might think.

In character, the four-star general commanding U.S. troops in Iraq could hardly be further from escort-service owner Deborah Jeane Palfrey, who is accused of running a prostitution ring. But a coincidence of the calendar put them in similar positions yesterday: She sat in a courtroom facing accusations from her former escorts who had turned against her, while, six blocks away, he sat in a House hearing room facing hostile questions from once-loyal Republican lawmakers.

"The people of the United States have paid an awful price," thundered Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "It's time for the Iraqis to pay that price for their own protection."

"I still have a hard time seeing the big picture and what constitutes success," complained Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). "That's not just one side of the aisle with those kind of concerns. Many on this side of the aisle have that as well."

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) demanded an explanation for President Bush's unmet promise that the Iraqi government would take over security for all provinces. "Of course, that has not happened," Tancredo complained. "I'm just wondering whether, General Petraeus, you have any idea of why he made that statement?"

By the end of the day, the general and his sidekick, Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, had become accomplished in the art of gulping.

When he appeared before Congress seven months ago, the general was greeted as a returning war hero. But missiles are again raining on the Green Zone in Baghdad, and sadder but wiser lawmakers tempered their enthusiasm.

For the newly skeptical, Petraeus gave the not-entirely-successful defense that he could not define success in Iraq, but that he would know it when he sees it -- much like the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's view of pornography.

This, of course, brings us to the D.C. Madam, who was having far bigger problems than the general. Her claim: that she never expected her escorts to have sex with clients. Under questioning by federal prosecutors, the escorts reluctantly but resoundingly refuted this claim.

A young redhead named Christy testified about the terms of her employment, which earned her $300 to $500 for a 90-minute gig. "I knew that I would basically have to have sex for money," she explained before breaking down in tears. "If it was asked of me, I'd be willing to do it."

The most damning testimony came from a 63-year-old occupational therapist with an Ivy League degree and a PhD. She calmly explained her various "appointments," mostly in homes and hotel rooms, but "a few times in offices, one time in a shopping mall." She explained how she spoke with Palfrey about the demeaning sex roles men asked her to play. "She said, 'Don't take it personally -- men like fantasy,' " she recalled.

Still, there are limits to every man's interest in fantasy -- and in the Rayburn House Office Building, lawmakers had grown weary of the administration's visions of triumph in Iraq.

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