The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman and other leading Democratic lawmakers added their voices to those questioning the judgment of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, on the eve of his progress report to Congress.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, recently returned from Iraq. He downplayed reports of military progress there, saying he and other lawmakers will continue to push for a withdrawal of American forces.
“The reality is that although there’s been some mild security progress, there is in fact no security in Baghdad or Anbar province, where I was dealing with the most serious problem: sectarian violence,” Mr. Biden said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker are scheduled to appear before Congress today and tomorrow to discuss the progress of President Bush’s surge strategy. Officials close to Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker told the Associated Press that they expect the two men to advise against significant changes to the strategy.
“I really respect him, but I think he’s dead flat wrong,” Mr. Biden said when asked about Gen. Petraeus’ expected recommendations. “I will insist on a firm beginning to withdraw the troops, and I will insist on a target date to get American combat forces out.”
Mr. Biden voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq and previously advised against setting a specific timetable for the withdrawal of American forces.
Mr. Biden’s comments were echoed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, another Democrat considered influential on national security issues. Mrs. Feinstein told “Fox News Sunday” that while she respects Gen. Petraeus, she thinks his personal stake in the war will color his judgment.
“I don’t think General Petraeus has an independent view in that sense,” she said. “General Petraeus is there to succeed. He may say the progress is uneven. He may say it’s substantial. I don’t know what he will say. You can be sure we’ll listen to it. But I don’t think he’s an independent evaluator.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who recently returned from a two-week stint with the Air Force Reserve in Iraq, said Democrats are wrong to question Gen. Petraeus’ independence.
“This idea that he and Ambassador Crocker are going to cook numbers to continue a war where people are going to get hurt and killed because they have a political agenda is ridiculous. It’s offensive,” Mr. Graham said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a presidential candidate, was asked to respond to a new ad from the liberal antiwar group MoveOn.org that refers to Gen. Petraeus as “General Betray Us.”
“Makes me very sad. A person who has dedicated his life to the service of his country. He was wounded in three wars; he’s one of the finest examples of military service,” Mr. McCain said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”
“He served his country with honor and distinction, and if we have to sink to that level to besmirch the reputation of a very fine and wonderful American, then I lament the level of dialogue. I hope that my Democrat friends will not be guided by MoveOn.org.”