Democrats Handle Petraeus Softly

Posted May 22, 2008 at 11:19am

The nomination hearing for Army Gen. David Petraeus drew less political fire from Senate Democrats than anticipated, with Democrats largely avoiding the tough rhetoric that met the general when he testified before the same committee in April.

Except for a brief shouting match from CODEPINK protesters at the beginning of the Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday morning, the session was conducted more like a meeting.

The committee was meeting to confirm Petraeus as the commander of the U.S. Central Command and Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno as the top general in Iraq. The biggest news was that Petraeus said he may recommend some troop withdrawals in the fall if conditions allow for it.

Meanwhile, panelists were generally very serene and subdued.

At one point, while Petraeus was making his opening remarks, a protester ran toward the general screaming for him to stop lying about the Iranian government equipping Iraqi militant groups. Many of the protesters were quickly removed.

In his opening statement, Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) made approving remarks about the two military officials, going through their resumes and noting their sacrifice, while avoiding any political attacks on the progress in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Every member of this committee recognizes that the long hours and hard work put in by our senior military officials at the Department of Defense require commitment and sacrifice not only from our nominees, but also from their family members,” Levin said.

“Not only has each of these officers served more than 30 years in the military, each has already served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and is volunteering to return,” Levin said.

In fact, the hearing seemed to be dedicated to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who sits on the panel but has not been in Senate because of a recent diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor. It is unclear when Kennedy will return to the Senate.

Both Levin and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a senior Republican at the hearing, mentioned Kennedy’s absence only after Petraeus and Odierno made note of it in their opening statements.

Panel member and presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was also noticeably absent from the hearing. In April, Clinton pressed Petraeus over whether he he would recommend a troop withdrawal to President Bush.

Instead, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) went on the offensive, questioning Petraeus on the role that Iran plays in the Iraq. Webb repeatedly interrupted Petraeus, pressing him to answer to what extent Iran can have a role in the region.

“Would you agree, that historically, that one of the realities that we have to deal with is the notion there will be some sort of Iranian influence in the region?” Webb asked.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said Democrats would not prevent either Petraeus or Odierno from being nominated.