See UPDATE at foot: Gen. Petraeus subsequently testified to the importance of Iraq to national security.
In the wake of the odious MoveOn.org ad calling our commander in Iraq "General Betray Us," [read Dean Barnett's excellent take here] you might have thought the last thing a responsible member of the media would do would be to accuse other senior officials of "betrayal."
I did say "responsible." On this afternoon's "Hardball," Chris Matthews accused President Bush of "betrayal" for his handling of Iraq.
The "Hardball" host was fuming over Gen. Petraeus's reluctance to state whether the war in Iraq would make America safer.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: He couldn't say whether what we're doing in Iraq makes America safer or not. He couldn't say whether the lost lives, the misery, the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent are worth the effort in terms of our national security.
View video here.
Cut to a clip of Gen. Petraeus responding to a question from Sen. John Warner (R-Va.)
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Are you able to say at this time if we continue what you have laid before the Congress here as a strategy, do you feel that that is making America safer?
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Sir, I believe this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq.
WARNER: Does that make America safer?
PETRAEUS: Sir, I don't know, actually. I've 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 Multi-National Force - Iraq.
Matthews went apoplectic.
MATTHEWS: This must be a first, an American field commander who can't say whether the sacrifices he's asking of his troops every day and night are worth it to their country. Did General Washington not know the answer in the American Revolution? Did General Eisenhower not know the answer in World War II? What are we doing in Iraq if the very man commanding the war doesn't know if it's doing us any good in terms of our national security? This is the real news of the [pronounced with contempt] so-called Petraeus Report. The general who won't tell how long it will take us to achieve the mission in Iraq can't tell us whether achieving that mission -- should it ever be achieved -- is worth it.
But it gets worse. The person who has to account for this policy of sending and keeping the American army in Iraq isn't some good soldier named Petraeus. It's the president who did the sending and the keeping. That the president continues to hide behind Petraeus, a man who admitted late this afternoon that he's given no thought to the Bush policy of fighting this war in Iraq, is not an acceptance of accountability, but a betrayal of it.
Surely Matthews was aware of the false analogy he had made between Gen. Petraeus and Generals Washington and Eisenhower. The latter were the supreme commanders of wars fought for the very creation and survival of the United States. For all its importance, the war in Iraq is different. As MNF-I commander, Petraeus is charged with a specific mission: accomplishing our nation's objectives in Iraq. As he stated, he is entirely focused on achieving that goal. He is not the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, let alone the Secretary of Defense or the Commander-in-Chief.
And surely Matthews was also acutely conscious of his choice of words. To have accused the President of the United States of "betrayal" in the poisonous atmosphere created by the MoveOn.org ad, was nothing less than reprehensible.
UPDATE: In subsequent testimony, Gen. Petraeus did attest to the importance of the Iraq war to national security.
SEN. EVAN BAYH (D-In.): "I thought you had an excellent, very candid response to Senator Warner's question and that was - he asked you - going forward the recommendations that you're making, will that make America safer? And you said that you could not answer that question because that was beyond the purview of your -- beyond the scope of your responsibilities."
PETRAEUS: Well, I thank you actually, Senator, for an opportunity to address that, frankly. Candidly, I have been so focused on Iraq that drawing all the way out was something that for a moment there was a bit of a surprise. But I think that we have very, very clear and very serious national interests in Iraq. Trying to achieve those interests -- achieving those interests has very serious implications for our safety and for our security. So I think the answer really, to come back to it is yes. But again, frankly, having focused down and down and down, that was something that really on first glance is something that I would let others -
BAYH: I judge by your response to Senator Graham, that you have given that a little additional thought."
PETRAEUS: Immediately afterwards actually.
BAYH: "That happens to all of us, including those of us on this side of the table.
The general's exchange with Sen. Bayh came just before 6 P.M. EDT, shortly before Matthews went off the air, and after Chris went on his rant at the top of the show. We'll look for Chris to acknowledge Gen. Petraeus's statement tomorrow.