Crocker's Deceptions

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Eve Fairbanks says the real news from yesterday's hearing was Ambassador Ryan Crocker:

Crocker is right that Iraqi leaders' intentions and how much actual power they wield is more important than whether they have accomplished a specific set of benchmarks--or whether withdrawal will do more harm than good. But his cautious optimism didn't even seem to convince himself. Even when he was describing areas like provincial reconstruction in which he'd had "pretty good luck," Crocker sounded depressed. I think he's well on his way to becoming another tragic figure of this war: well-intentioned, capable, but brought to his knees by the mistakes of others and the sheer immensity of the task he was given. Success is "achievable"? You wouldn't know it from Crocker's manner at the hearing today--a subdued, this-is-all-hypothetical-anyway spirit, like a doctor whose careful and long-ranging diagnoses are for naught because the patient in front of him is already gone.

I agree with Eve that Crocker didn't -- and doesn't -- appear to me to believe his own testimony on this score. I suppose, though, that I have a less sympathetic take. Rather than a tragic figure, I see yet another figure who's been corrupted by association with this venture. Either way, I've been a bit surprised by the nature of Crocker's testimony. His career suggests that he's a serious professional with good judgment -- "The memo bluntly predicted that toppling Hussein could unleash long-repressed sectarian and ethnic tensions, that the Sunni minority would not easily relinquish power, and that powerful neighbors such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia would try to move in to influence events. It also cautioned that the United States would have to start from scratch building a political and economic system because Iraq's infrastructure was in tatters" -- not the sort of man likely to let ephemera obscure the big picture.

And, as Eve says, something about his demeanor suggests he knows he's putting up a snow job. I heard him earlier today describe the "legislative reconciliation" issues he's been downplaying as "fundamental questions" about the nature of the Iraqi state. He knows perfectly well that those questions are the ones that matter. The fundamental ones. And that no progress has been made toward answering them.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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