In the Arena

Crocker and Me

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Ryan Crocker was pressed by Senator Carl Levin in the Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday as to whether he had ever said to me, “The fall of the Maliki government, when it happens, might not be a bad thing” for Iraq. After twice evading the question, Crocker said that “he did not recall” making that statement.

I recall. It’s in my notes, as is the next thing he said, “It might result in a more capable government.” Crocker’s people never questioned the quote, which was also featured on Meet the Press–and since it’s a fairly volatile thing to say, I suspect that they knew it was out there. Crocker’s people now say that I failed to put the quote, if he actually said it, in proper context: The Ambassador did also say, as he had in several previous conversations, that he had no idea who might replace Maliki. And that, given the length of time that it takes the Iraqis to change governments, the search for a new governing coalition would waste valuable time. But I’d reported that “context” several times in the past, and didn’t have the space to go beyond the new ground that Crocker had plowed, namely that the fall of Maliki might be a good thing.

Crocker does lots of interviews and may be telling the truth when he says that he doesn’t remember saying that. But he said it. I like and respect the guy, although I wish his testimony had more closely reflected his free-wheeling beliefs about Iraq, expressed to me and others in the past. Indeed, the closest Crocker got to being Crocker–his statement that his optimism about Iraqi reconciliation was “under control”–got him into trouble with several Senators who, rightly, assumed he was mocking the process. (Note: I’ve re-edited this paragraph and the one above.)

The other really weird thing about Crocker’s testimony was his rolling out the Iran bogeyman. Yes, yes, the continuing Iranian effort to supply cash, weapons and training to various Shi’ite militias is a matter of real concern. (I’m told, by the way, that the Iranians are funding all sides in Basra, not just the Sadrist Jaish al-Mahdi.) But no, no, Ahmadinejad’s statement that Iran would “fill the vacuum” in Iraq was–as Crocker well knows–overhyped and not very significant. Ahmadinejad has no more control over Iranian foreign policy than his powerless predecessor President Khatami did. Anyway, Iran has already been aggrandized regionally by the mess created by George W. Bush, already filled much of the vacuum created by the fall of Saddam. And Crocker himself knocked down the idea that Iraqi Shi’ites, veterans of eight years of Persian assaults during the 1981-88 war, would meekly accept the Iranians as their new leaders.

Speaking of which, Joe Lieberman was again notable yesterday for moving to the right of most of the Republicans on the panel, asking General Petraeus if it might be a good idea to invade Iran and take out the Revolutionary Brigade facilities allegedly supporting the Shi’ite militias. Petraeus said he had no authority outside Iraq. But you can see where Lieberman is heading now–and it’s atrocious.
(The Senator, by the way, expressed his displeasure yesterday with what I’ve been writing about him, even though he claimed not to have read it. He said I had attacked him personally. I told him my recollection was that I’d attacked him for the calumnies he had directed at his fellow Democrats, especially the use of the word “surrender” to describe their position. And for finding common cause with lunatic, literalist Christian Bible-crazies who believe in the rapture. I can now attack his foolish anti-Iranian warmongering. That’s not a personal attack though: I just find his position very dangerous and prohibitively wrong-headed.)

I’ll have an overview of the hearings in my print column, which I’ll post tomorrow.