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Coleman and the Petraeus hearings: the transcript

A complete transcript of yesterday’s Iraq hearings exchanges between U.S. Senator Norm Coleman and Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker. 

This morning’s Daily Glean complained that no local media outlet printed a transcript of U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman’s exchanges with Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker at yesterday’s Iraq hearings. So here it is:

COLEMAN: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. I want to continue the discussion about this bottom-up approach.

Ambassador, that’s something you’ve talked about a lot, that when we weren’t seeing the success before we got de-Baathification, before we got the central government doing a budget, a range of things, you talked about the bottom-up level.

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There’s a piece in the New York Times today, David Brooks quotes Phil Carl Salzman. He’s talking about in Middle Eastern societies, order is achieved not by top-down imposition of abstract law. Instead, order is achieved through fluid balance of power agreements between local groups.

I take it that’s a fair assessment of some of the things that we’ve been seeing in Iraq today. Would that be a fair assessment?

CROCKER: Senator, actually, I think it’s more complex than that. That is true at one level. But there also has to be a vertical integration, if you will.

COLEMAN: And my question, because the conclusion of this piece, this, if you kind of followed this, you can establish order that way, I mean the drawing down the U.S. troops at a slow pace, continue the local reconstruction efforts, supporting local elections, reaching informal agreement with Iran and the Saudis to reduce outside inference, and then Iraq can kind of be held together.

But my question is — it is about the vertical piece.

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And I think there is something else missing. And I’m a little frustrated as, what can we do? Where’s the pressure that we can put on Maliki to do those things that we’re still a little frustrated that aren’t done? We can’t have unconditional support here. There’s got to be conditions.

What are some of those conditions that are not in place today that can help us accelerate, at least, the vertical piece to support the horizontal piece that is taking place?

CROCKER: Well, if I could approach it from this direction of picking up on some of Senator Kerry’s comments, too, because there is a synergy here.

As Sunnis turned against Al Qaida in Anbar, then in Baghdad and other places, the Shia took note of that. They were less threatened by Al Qaida, obviously, and, as General Petraeus notes, Al Qaida did enormous damage to Shia civilians.

As that diminished, the Shia began to relax a little. And that meant two things: first, there was no longer the need to rely on groups like Jaish al-Mahdi for security. And you then saw the reaction in August in Karbala when Jaish al-Mahdi elements tried to take over one of the shrines. Popular outrage against them, and that led Muqtada al-Sadr to declare a cease-fire. The Sunnis take note of that.

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So you see a lot of positive developments bottoms-up, as it were, but that then begins to inform the national level.

CROCKER: And that’s what gives you the climate in which some of the legislative compromises that we just couldn’t get in the summer and the fall were then achievable in January — December, January, February.

You take it another step. You mentioned Prime Minister Maliki. I think his decision to go after extremist Shia militias in Basra, again, was a product in part of a much better cross-sectarian climate than existed heretofore. He could go after extremist Shia groups.

How well he did it is something General Petraeus can address, but on the political side we saw then further reaction from the leadership, including the Sunni leadership. And right now — I can’t say how it’s going to develop — but right now there is probably broader support from the entire leadership for the prime minister and for getting on with the business of the state, including reconciliation, than I’ve seen at any time since I got there.

COLEMAN: Let me take — I’ll give an optimistic scenario. We’ve had a number of worst-case scenarios. But perhaps getting to the same question, General, what you’ve done with the surge has been, I think, certainly way beyond even my expectations, and I had some concerns early on. But I think it set the stage for what the ambassador’s talking about, the two go hand in hand.

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But at a certain point in time there’s going to be a new administration coming in. You’re going be part of a transition. And they’re going to ask the question: With the success that we’ve had militarily, with the movement that we’ve seen both horizontally, from the ground up, as well as some vertically, I think these pieces fit together. It is complex, what’s, then, the best case scenario to say that we’ve reached that, Ambassador, your words, that stable, secure, multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy that has the ability to defend itself against enemies, both internal and external, assuming we’re moving in that direction, what’s then the best-case scenario to say now we can set a timetable and tell the American public (inaudible), not in failure, but in achieving success?

PETRAEUS: Well, Senator, as I’ve explained, again, from a military perspective, as you would imagine as a commander on the ground and the commanders under me, given the enormous effort it’s taken to achieve this progress, it has to do with conditions again. And what went to do is to look at conditions and determine where it is that we can make reductions without taking undue risk.

This is really about risk, by the way. It’s also risk well beyond Iraq. It’s where do you take risk? Do you take it in Iraq, do you take it in the region, do you take it elsewhere?

And I fully understand the role this body and the folks up the chain of command from me in determining where do they take the risk? And at the end of the day, as Senator Hagel said, you salute and you try to take the hill with what you’re given.

But what you have to do is lay out, if this is the mission that you want us to perform, these are the objectives — and you have to have that dialogue very, very clearly — then this is what we believe the resources will be to accomplish that, here’s how we might be able to project, again, for you, just again hypothetically at that point, to lay what the requirements will be.

And then it is up, of course, to the policymakers to determine, again, where do they want to take that risk? And based on, again, the various consequences in various locations.

COLEMAN: I may have time for one more question. Perhaps this is one that you can’t answer.

You mentioned — talked about Quds Force-Iran is funding, is supporting the killing — efforts that result in the killing of coalition soldiers. In other times, that would be an act of war.

What is it that we need to be doing that we’re not doing to make it very clear that that kind of action is — simply can’t be tolerated?

PETRAEUS: Well, Senator, again, my job is in Iraq. What we have done in Iraq is attempted to interdict the flow of what are called lethal accelerants, really, these trained and equipped individuals and the weapons that have been provided to them and the funding provided to them by the Iranian Quds Force.

And then, of course, at the next level up, there has to be a regional approach, eventually a global approach. But that obviously has to be taken up by folks above me in the chain of command.

But, again, obviously it’s my job to raise what’s going on, to lay out — we have detained these individuals. We have detained Quds Force officers in Iraq, as I’ve mentioned. We’ve detained the deputy head of Lebanese Hezbollah 2800.

So, again, there’s no secret about this. And as the ambassador and I have mentioned, their involvement came out in much higher relief during this latest violence.

COLEMAN: I thank both of you gentlemen and those who serve under you for your extraordinary service.

PETRAEUS: Thank you, Senator.