It was a sober assessment.
The surge will be over by next summer, but even then U.S. troops will only return to pre-surge levels.
There has been progress toward reconciliation, but it's hard to put your finger on where it has been.
But today's testimony was not merely a report card on the surge. It also outlined a new strategy for stability in Iraq, the latest of many.
2003 Regime Change
: Topple Saddam's horrific regime, find WMDs, leave, hold a parade.
: Saddam's government and Iraq's social structure quickly collapse. Iraqis revert to their Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish identities.
: 2004 Democracy
: Let the Iraqis choose their leaders in Baghdad, let them 'buy into the system,' write a constitution, then leave, and hold a parade.
: Elections are held after Fallujah is destroyed and amid Sunni boycotts. Shiites backed by their ayatollahs win the polls, and implement a democratic theocracy. The Sunnis are furious. Al-Qaida thrives.
: 2005 Refining Democracy
: Convince the Iraqi government to develop its institutions. Write a constitution. Be founding fathers. Get on with it!
: As the Iraqi government squabbles and remains inactive, Shiite militias and al-Qaida-driven-Sunnis enter open war. Civil war breaks out.
: 2006 Containment
: The Iraqi central government faces possible collapse as the Sunni vs. Shiite civil war intensifies. Millions of Iraqis flee to Syria and Jordan. The U.S. sends in 30,000 extra troops to prevent a total collapse. In blackjack terms, Bush doubles down.
: Extra troops improve security in Iraq, but the surge also leads to more American combat deaths and additional U.S. spending, which both make the war increasingly unpopular in the United States. The American people demand a reality check and a change.
: 2007 Decentralization
: American commanders and embassy officials have grown sick of the Iraqi central government's inability to tackle tough issues and act like leaders. But U.S. officials see progress in 'regional democracy' as local leaders, especially Sunnis in Anbar, decide they want to tackle militants. They have had enough of al-Qaida.
The U.S. wants to replicate this success in other parts of Iraq. But first, U.S. officials must convince the American people to stick it out and allow the military and political leaders to try the new 'bottom up' approach, and then end the surge.
U.S. officials add that America must keep enough troops in Iraq to prevent Iran from taking over and sparking a regional war. There will be no parades.
: U.S. officials over time try to weaken the central Iraqi government and work directly with local leaders. The U.S. now sees a 'federal' solution – short of a three-state solution – in which Iraq is only united under the umbrella of a weak central government.
Some U.S. troops are home for Christmas.
I expect in 2008, 2009, 2010 and well beyond, historians will be able to continue adding new summaries as the United States tests out new strategies in Iraq.
Today General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker – the best, most realistic, sophisticated team so far assembled in Iraq – had a terrible job. They were selling a long and difficult process, not a product. Both men are correct in warning that if the American people simply throw in the towel, Iraq and the region will collapse: Iran will be emboldened, the proxy war in Iraq will intensify, and the United States' credibility in the Middle East will be zilch.
But we, as Americans, could be doing this forever.
So what do we do?
In yesterday's Washington Post, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton suggested that the key to America's war on terrorism is foreign policy. It's the same for the war in Iraq.
When General Petraeus first returned to Baghdad as overall commander, he boldly said there is 'no military solution' to the conflict in Iraq. It remains true today.
But diplomacy seems far off. It is clear today that both Petraeus and Crocker are furious with Iraq's Shiite neighbor, Iran.
But sitting here in Tehran tonight, one hears a very different story. Iran says it wants a stabile Iraqi government. But Washington and Iran don't agree on what that Iraqi government should look like. Iran believes it is rebuilding Iraq.
This weekend, Iraq hosted its own Iraq 'reconstruction conference' here in Tehran, and Iranian goldsmiths, jewelers and masons are rebuilding the minarets of the Shiite shrine in Samarra. Iran wants the U.S. troops out of Iraq and sees itself, not the United States, as Iraq's dominant trading partner and supporter.
For the last two years, U.S. troops have been stuck in the middle of a civil war between radical Shiites and Sunnis. Now they are in the middle of a cold war between the U.S. and Iran as well.
It's cold war politics, and cold wars take a long time.