Today, with the next President among the questioners, the stars of the Iraq spectacle come to Capitol Hill for their final performance of the Bush era.
Knowing that, unless McCain walks on water in November, the time for an honest reckoning is here, how will David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker face the chasm between Bush intransigence and an Obama (or Clinton) mandate to bring down the curtain?
"Our experience in Iraq has repeatedly shown that projecting too far into the future is not just difficult, it can be misleading and even hazardous," Gen. David Petraeus told Congress last September. "The events of the past six months underscore that point."
But the time for adlibbing is gone, and the two maestros of the Maliki show are going to have to explain the recent misadventure in Basra--the botched offensive against the militias, the mass desertions in the Iraqi forces and the intervention of Iran in temporarily reining in al-Sadr.
Having bought off Sunnis in Anbar, how much will it take to pay off Shiites in Basra, and what are the chances they will stay bought?
The Republicans up for reelection are hearing voters' footsteps. At a hearing last week, Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman asked, "How do we get out of this mess?" A colleague, who preferred anonymity, added "We can't just say we're coasting through and waiting for the next president."
After his triumphant tour of past glories, John McCain is still in some imaginary realm, expressing support for the Basra attack but, on Fox News, suggesting that "al-Maliki should have waited until fighting subsided in Mosul.
“Look, I didn’t particularly like the outcome of this thing, but I am convinced that we now have a government that is governing with some effect and a military that is functioning very effectively.”
As the American death toll starts rising again, McCain won't be asking any tough questions today, but the Democrats who expect to take over the White House and expand their control of Congress next year should be insisting on straight answers now.