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"Constraining" the Commander

12:15 PM, Jan 19, 2007 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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The incoming commander for Iraq, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, is scheduled to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, January 23. He's expected to make the case for the "surge" and presumably explain why he needs the additional brigades to implement the new strategy. This will put surge opponents like Sen. Clinton, who serves on the committee, in a tight spot. They want to oppose the policy but support the troops on the ground in Iraq.

Sen. Obama framed it this way on Face the Nation: "We need to look at what options do we have available to constrain the president, to hopefully right the course that we're on right now, but to do so in a way that makes sure that the troops that are on the ground have all the equipment and the resource they need to fulfill their mission and to come home safely." The problem is that Petraeus reportedly wants the additional forces, so the Illinois senator is also seeking to "constrain" the new ground commander in Iraq.

Petraeus is well respected across the political divide. Top Democrats praised the job he did in Iraq in earlier deployments. He's considered the Army's top counterinsurgency expert, knows Iraq well, and has stated many times that a military solution alone won't solve Iraq's problems. He also served as Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations of the NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia.

Yet, Petraeus' support for the surge isn't just a case of following orders from the commander in chief. The NYT'S Michael Gordon has reported that behind the scenes Petraeus (and Lt. Gen. Odierno) have advocated a rapid surge "in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Gen. George W. Casey Jr." And I'm sure the general came to his conclusion after examining all the options on the table to reverse the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

So, during the hearing, Sen. Clinton and her colleagues will speak on the virtue of "capping" our troop level in Iraq and then cast two votes -- in committee and on the Senate floor -- in favor of the nomination of Lt. Gen. Petraeus to be General and Commander, Multi-National Forces-Iraq.

Will the surge work? Will we surge enough forces and for how long? Should we pursue a different course of action? All these are critical questions and will be batted around during the Armed Services hearing. But it will be a bit of a spectacle for the full Senate to approve the general's nomination (most likely unanimously) and then have Majority Leader Reid & company turnaround to devote their energy to passing a non-binding (for now at least), anti-surge resolution. Somehow I'm not surprised.