Everybody leads with the much-anticipated testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker before two House committees yesterday. Petraeus announced he would be sending home a unit of about 2,000 Marines this month. He will propose a withdrawal schedule that would begin with a brigade in mid-December and end with a reduction in the number of U.S. troops back to "pre-surge" levels by mid-July. Although Petraeus characterized it as a "very substantial withdrawal" the Los Angeles Times notes up high that without extending tours, the troops "would have had to come home anyway by the end of August." The pullback plan Petraeus sketched out "is essentially the smallest he could offer," says the Wall Street Journal.
The Washington Post notes some called it "the most anticipated congressional testimony by a general since the Vietnam war." But what was once seen as "a potentially defining day" for the war became "a clear sign that the political standoff over Iraq is unlikely to end anytime soon," points out USA Today. And even the standoff wasn't very exciting. "The hearings had been expected to provoke an epic confrontation," but that never actually materialized as very few Democrats seemed willing to challenge "the assessments provided by a commander with medals on his chest and four stars on his shoulders," notes the New York Times.
Although the hearing was definitely missing some fireworks, the Post points out that, at the very least, yesterday marked "a new phase" in the debate about the war because "the argument will no longer be about whether to withdraw U.S. troops but about how many to pull out and how quickly." Petraeus emphasized that a quick withdrawal could have disastrous consequences and urged Congress to wait until March to make any decisions. When questioned, Petraeus said he wrote the testimony himself and didn't get it approved by the White House.
"Give us more time" was a consistent theme throughout the hearing. Noting that there had been some improvements both militarily and politically, Petraeus and Crocker admitted they were frustrated with the pace of progress and warned that it would still take a long time to achieve stability. "They tried to slow Washington down," says the Post in a Page One analysis. And, judging by yesterday, it seems they will easily succeed. The LAT bluntly states on Page One that the testimony was "better suited to the defense of an earlier strategy: 'stay the course.' " It's increasingly looking like the truly difficult decisions about Iraq "will be left for the next president, whose job is looking tougher all the time," says the LAT.
Although the idea of drawing down U.S. troops by switching from combat to training and oversight has become popular in Washington, Petraeus said it's still too early for that type of move, the NYT notes in an analysis. Petraeus says it's still important for American forces to protect Iraqis and effectively put "critics on notice that even when reductions come he has a different vision of the manner in which many of the remaining troops would be used."
The NYT has a good piece from Baghdad that compares Crocker's testimony with the political realities on the ground and notes how he glossed over some of the most troubling trends of the past year.
Republicans appeared satisfied with Petraeus' plan and left Democrats alone to challenge the testimony, although few did with much force. Noting there were problems with anti-war hecklers and several technical difficulties, the Post's Dana Milbank says "the only predictable element of the afternoon was the consistency of the praise for Petraeus." Slate's Fred Kaplan says "Monday was mainly a disgrace" but predicts that today's sessions before two Senate committees "will probably prove more interesting, if just because several presidential candidates sit on the panels."
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the U.S. military announced the death of nine American soldiers.
The LAT and NYT front dispatches out of Pakistan, where Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister who had been in exile for seven years, was deported early yesterday shortly after touching down in Islamabad's airport. The country's Supreme Court had declared he could return, but bitter rival President Gen. Pervez Musharraf disagreed. Most of the leaders of Sharif's party were arrested and the LAT notes Musharraf may use any unrest as an excuse to declare martial law. The NYT talked to Sharif on the plane and he called on the United States to stop supporting Musharraf but, of course, the State Department was quick to describe it as an internal matter. The LAT notes the power-sharing deal with Benazir Bhutto might fall through since it could be too risky for her to get close to Musharraf.
The LAT and WP off-lead news that Sen. Hillary Clinton will return $850,000 to about 260 donors with ties to fund-raiser Norman Hsu. It is the largest amount ever returned by a candidate because of "questionable fundraising practices," says the WSJ. Before the announcement, the LAT got its hands on an e-mail that showed the campaign had dismissed concerns Hsu was involved in a Ponzi scheme. The campaign announced it will now run criminal background checks on its bundlers.
The NYT fronts a look at how House Democrats are beginning an investigation on the jailing of the Democratic governor of Alabama, which many see as an example of the how the Justice Department's prosecutions have become politicized. There are rumors that Karl Rove might have been involved and some experts question the filing of corruption charges for stuff that appears to be fairly common in state governments.
The LAT notes the amazing story of a woman in China with 26 "sewing needles embedded in her body." It is believed that her grandparents tried to kill her soon after she was born and used a method that doesn't appear to be all that uncommon in China. Three years after finding out about the needles, she is finally getting some removed. "The fact she is still alive is a medical miracle," said the hospital's spokesman.