Senate OKs promotions of Iraq generals

July 10, 2008 6:38:02 PM PDT
Notwithstanding months of partisan wrangling in Congress over the Iraq war, the Senate on Thursday handily confirmed Gen. David Petraeus as the top commander in the Middle East and Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno to replace Petraeus as the chief military officer in Iraq. The Senate voted 95-2 in favor of Petraeus with Democratic Sens. Robert Byrd and Tom Harkin opposing. Harkin, D-Iowa, cast the lone vote opposing Odierno, who was confirmed 96-1.

The Senate action will keep the nation on its present course in Iraq for the remainder of the year. It also will hand the next administration a pair of combat-tested commanders who have relentlessly defended the need to keep troops in Iraq in large numbers, rather than wind down combat operations.

Despite their firm backing of the politically unpopular war, Petraeus and Odierno drew little criticism from congressional Democrats who typically reserve their sharpest critiques for Bush and his political appointees.

"This continuity in U.S. military leadership will be helpful in working with regional and Iraqi political and military leaders," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Byrd, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he opposed Petraeus in part because the general should see through the operations in Iraq.

With security gains being described as fragile, "it does not seem prudent to remove the mastermind behind the fragile successes that have been thus far achieved," said Byrd, D-W.Va.

Harkin spokeswoman Jennifer Mullin said the senator believes that "Petraeus has been an unapologetic supporter of this misguided war in Iraq, continually toeing the administration's party line" while Odierno is guilty of "serious flaws in judgment."

Odierno has "refused to characterize the insurgency that began after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime as anything that was serious and worthy of a shift in U.S. strategy," Mullin said in a statement.

Last year, Petraeus helped to tame growing opposition to the Iraq war in Congress by providing measured assessments of progress and warning that an exodus of U.S. troops would result in chaos. In the meantime, he advocated a buildup of some 30,000 troops in Baghdad and other hotspots, which eventually proved vital in tamping down violence.

Odierno, as Petraeus' deputy commander in Iraq, is credited with successfully managing the new strategy.

In their new jobs, Odierno will receive a fourth star and report to Petraeus, whose area of responsibility will broaden to include such countries as Iran and Pakistan.

Petraeus would replace Navy Adm. William J. Fallon as chief of U.S. Central Command. Fallon resigned last month following news reports that he was at odds with the White House over Iran policy.

By mid-July, the Pentagon is on track to withdraw the last of the additional combat brigades sent as part of the buildup, leaving behind roughly 142,000 troops. During his nomination hearing in May, Petraeus told Congress that he is likely to recommend more troop reductions this fall.

In other military moves Thursday, President Bush formally nominated Gen. Norton A. Schwartz to be chief of staff of the Air Force. Schwartz, a 35-year veteran with a background in Air Force special operations, would replace Gen. Michael Moseley, who was forced to resign last month in a furor over the service's mishandling of nuclear-related materials.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended Schwartz for the job last month, as he dumped both Moseley and then-Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne. Michael Donley is serving as acting secretary. Both Schwartz and Donley must be confirmed by the Senate.

Bush also nominated Air Force Gen. Duncan McNabb to take over Schwartz' previous post as head of U.S. Transportation Command. McNabb is currently serving as vice chief of staff for the Air Force at the Pentagon. As part of the Air Force leadership shift, Lt. Gen. William Shelton was nominated as chief of the service's warfighting integration.