Supposedly, the whole war in Iraq is so that America will be safer. So Senator John Warner (R-VA) cuts to the chase:
WARNER: I hope in the recesses of your heart that you know that strategy will continue the casualties, stress on our forces, stress on military families, stress on all Americans. Are you able to say at this time, if we continue what you have laid before the Congress, this strategy, that if you continue, you are making America safer?
PETRAEUS: Sir, I believe that this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objections in Iraq.
WARNER: Does that make America safer?
PETRAEUS: Sir, I don’t know actually. I have not sat down and sorted out in my own mind. What I have focused on and been riveted on is how to accomplish the mission of the Multinational Force in Iraq.
If Iraq is supposedly the central front on the War on Terror, then any metric of its success should include an assessment of whether or not we, as Americans, are safer as a result. That is the forest, and the fact that Petraeus can only see the trees is telling.
Here’s the video —
Now, to be fair, I don’t want to wrench this from context. Petraeus probably didn’t intend to make such a sweeping concession; he probably meant to argue that he’s focused on the mission in front of him. Whether the success of that mission helps improve the security of the United States simply isn’t on his radar.
But this wasn’t a trick question. If we’re fighting a war, conditions are dismal, and hard-to-predict success won’t improve our national security, then it reinforces the idea that maybe, just maybe, we should get the hell out of there.
Spencer Ackerman calls it "stunning":
This is the first time that any general officer, let alone the commanding general in Iraq, has ever equivocated on whether success in Iraq will contribute to U.S. security.