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The two presidential aspirants on the Senate Armed Services Committee praised and criticized the general and the ambassador over the conduct of the Iraq War in Tuesday morning’s testimony.

But Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), one of the Democratic presidential contenders, managed for the most part to keep the presidential politics under wraps during the testimony of Army Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.

There weren’t many fireworks, except for Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee’s chairman, booting an anti-war protester from the hearing during McCain’s questioning of the star witnesses.

“Senator McCain, there is no military solution!” a protester from the anti-war group CODEPINK shouted several times before being removed by Capitol Police.

Round two for Petraeus and Crocker will start this afternoon in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Clinton’s rival in the Democratic primary race, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), will have his turn.

McCain had the decided advantage in Tuesday morning’s show; a veteran lawmaker, he is the ranking member of the committee and got to address the general, and the television cameras, relatively close to the 9:30 a.m. start time. Clinton, who is the 10th of 13 Democrats on the panel, arrived on time and greeted the witnesses, but didn’t get to say anything until roughly three hours later.

In his six-minute opening statement, McCain praised the success of the troop surge that he has ceaselessly talked up on the campaign trail. Although work in Iraq is unfinished, McCain argued that success was now possible.

“Much, much more needs to be done,” McCain stressed. “But today, it is possible to talk with real hope and optimism about the future of Iraq and the outcome of our efforts there.

“We’re no longer staring into the abyss of defeat, and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success,” the former Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war stated.

McCain urged Congress to give the military and political team in Iraq time to finish their business. “We have before us a hard road,” McCain said. But, he added, “The alternative path is in the end the far costlier.”

“Congress must not choose to lose in Iraq. We must choose instead to succeed.”

Both McCain and Levin questioned Petraeus about what and when he knew about last weekend’s Basra offensive led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Not much, Petraeus confirmed.

Meanwhile, Clinton, doing her best to sound wonky and measured, criticized the lack of political progress on the ground in Iraq and the “opportunity costs” in terms of lost military resources in other global hot spots of an open-ended commitment in Iraq.

“I think it’s time to begin a orderly process of withdrawing our troops,” Clinton stated, echoing what she has said on the campaign trail.

Clinton then pointedly asked Petraeus to clarify what conditions would have to be present in order to withdraw from Iraq.

“What conditions would have to exist for you to recommend to the president that the current strategy is not working?” Clinton queried.

Committee Democrats, meanwhile, attacked Petraeus’ assertion that there needs to be a 45-day pause, or “consolidation and evaluation” period, as he put it, once U.S. troops reach pre-surge levels in July.

“This approach does not allow the establishment of a set withdrawal timetable,” Petraeus said in his opening statement.

Levin called such a pause the “next page in a war plan with no exit strategy.”

To be continued…

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