- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2008

Senate Democrats, who cooled their anti-war rhetoric as the Iraq body count plummeted and America’s economic woes stole the headlines, insist the overwhelming vote Thursday to promote the top two U.S. generals in Iraq was not a vindication of President Bush’s war policy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a year ago declared “this war is lost, and the surge is not accomplishing anything” and said he still found the war effort wanting Thursday as he joined a 95-2 vote to confirm a new appointment for Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq and author of the troop-surge strategy.

“Our current Iraq strategy is making America less safe,” the Nevada Democrat said. “Military readiness is down; Afghanistan is slipping further into violence; Pakistan remains in crisis; and Osama bin Laden is still on the loose.”

Neither party has pushed the war issue in recent months, as the improved situation in Iraq undercut Democrats’ chief complaint and Republicans enjoyed a respite from defending the universally unpopular war.

The confirmation vote nevertheless provided an opportunity for Republicans to crow softly and Democrats to renew calls for a pullout.

“The counterinsurgency strategy has brought about results that are nothing short of remarkable,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican. “This never would have been possible if we had yielded to the cut-and-run crowd.”

“If we had failed to keep our commitment there, today Iraq would undoubtedly be more violent and politically unstable, and subject to greater Iranian influence,” he said. “General Petraeus and Lieutenant General [Raymond T.] Odierno have played an invaluable role in these successes, and will continue to benefit our nation through their leadership in the war on terrorism.”

The confirmation vote elevated Gen. Petraeus to the head of U.S. Central Command, or CentCom, the military theater stretching from the Horn of Africa, across the Middle East and into Central Asia that oversees all operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His right-hand man in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, was confirmed in a 96-1 vote to take over as U.S. commander in Iraq.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said the votes were not an acknowledgement that the generals helped turn around the Iraq war.

“I would say that the violence is down, marginally down, in Iraq. Not down enough to achieve our goal, which is bring American troops home,” Mr. Durbin said. “I don’t question Odierno and Petraeus in terms of their military service to our country. … That’s not part of it. It’s just the commander in chief that’s making the mistakes.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, a staunch supporter of the war effort, said it is hard to argue with the generals’ success in Iraq even for backers of an immediate troop pullout.

“If things were not going as well in Iraq there would have been more than two votes against General Petraeus,” he said.

The troop surge, which at its height last summer put about 170,000 American troops in Iraq, is credited with reducing sectarian violence and providing breathing room that allowed Iraqi political leaders to move toward national reconciliation.

The Iraqi security forces have become more professional and U.S. casualties have dropped in recent months to the lowest levels in four years, with about 140,000 troops currently deployed in Iraq.

Military officials stress the gains are fragile and easily reversed.

“This war has been a disaster,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, who voted to confirm the generals.

“We have got to bring the troops home as soon as possible. We have a $9.5 trillion national debt. We are spending $12 billion every single month in Iraq, and meanwhile, the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating,” he said.

The votes against confirming Gen. Petraeus were cast by Democratic Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Tom Harkin of Iowa.

Mr. Byrd said the general in confirmation hearings proved unwilling to address regional issues, such as in Iran or Afghanistan. The senator also said he wanted Gen. Petraeus to stay in Iraq to maintain a continuity of command.

Mr. Harkin, who cast the sole vote against Gen. Odierno, thinks that neither general “will take us in the direction we need in Iraq, namely setting a timetable for redeployment of U.S. forces,” said Harkin spokeswoman Semonti Mustaphi.

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