The next U.S. commander for Iraq told Congress yesterday that pending Senate resolutions against a surge of more than 21,000 troops give the enemy hope by depicting America as divided on winning the war.
Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, President Bush’s choice to take over command in Iraq and change the tide of a deteriorating battle, revealed his assessment in questioning from the Senate’s two leading war hawks: Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent.
Mr. McCain, who supports a larger troop increase, asked what the results would be if senators “tell those troops that we support you, but we are convinced that you cannot accomplish your mission. … What effect does that have on the morale?”
“Well, it would not be a beneficial effect, sir,” Gen. Petraeus replied during a confirmation hearing to four-star rank before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Obviously, a commander would like to go forward with as much flexibility as he can achieve.”
Mr. Lieberman tried to pull Gen. Petraeus further into the upcoming Senate debate. He asked what effect an anti-surge Senate resolution would have on the enemy. After praising the U.S. system of open political debate, the general added, “having said that, a commander in such an endeavor would obviously like the enemy to feel that there’s no hope.”
“A Senate-passed resolution of disapproval for this new strategy in Iraq would give the enemy some encouragement,” Mr. Lieberman said, to which Gen. Petraeus answered, “That’s correct, sir.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to vote today on a nonbinding resolution from Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, that condemns Mr. Bush’s plan. Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, has garnered bipartisan support for another resolution critical of the surge.
Gen. Petraeus spent much of the hearing explaining his views on counterinsurgency, assessing the “dire”situation in Iraq and predicting the troop surge can succeed. He testified that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has taken steps to change policy by bulking up Iraqi forces in Baghdad.
“The situation in Iraq is dire,” he said. “The stakes are high. There are no easy choices. The way ahead will be very hard.”
Gen. Petraeus, whose confirmation is expected by the full Senate, is to replace Army Gen. George Casey, whom Mr. Bush has selected as Army chief of staff. His hearing was the first of two confirmation proceedings that will change the nearly four-year war’s military leadership. Next up is Adm. William J. Fallon, who is to replace Army Gen. John Abizaid as head of U.S. Central Command, which includes Iraq.
Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and the committee chairman, expressed doubts that Mr. al-Maliki would keep his promise. Mr. al-Maliki had refused to order his military to crush the death squad forces of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who controls Shi’ite members in parliament who support Mr. al-Maliki.
“They have not complied with previous commitments that they’ve made,” said Mr. Levin, who advocates a predetermined phased withdrawal of all U.S. forces. “I’m very doubtful, as one senator, that it’s likely they’re going to carry out the other commitments that they have made. I just think history should make us very dubious about the likelihood that they are going to carry out these critically important commitments.”
Mr. Bush announced a surge to about 155,000 troops in what may be the last major bid to put down Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian violence and defeat al Qaeda in Iraq.
In Gen. Petraeus, Mr. Bush tapped a commander who led part of the force that invaded Iraq in 2003 and who then returned to the country to train its emerging security force. The general is commander of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and oversaw the writing of the military’s new counterinsurgency manual, which states that too many troops can alienate civilians and push them to supporting the insurgents.
Gen. Petraeus said, “I think that at this point in Baghdad, the population just wants to be secure. And truthfully, they don’t care who does it.”