A number of key Democrats quickly announced their support Wednesday for President Obama’s decision to replace his “Runaway General” in Afghanistan with another military commander best known for his service in Iraq. Further, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee promised a speedy confirmation process for Gen. David Petraeus.
Top congressional Democrats acknowledged that Gen. Stanley McChrystal had to go following published comments in Rolling Stone magazine which disparaged Vice President Biden and other top administration officials.
McChrystal had been recalled to Washington to explain those comments in person. He met briefly with President Obama, before the president announced his intention to replace McChrystal with Petraeus.
“Relieving General McChrystal of his command was the right course of action to ensure there is full faith and confidence in our military leadership,” says House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “General David Petraeus is a strong, distinguished leader, and will serve the U.S. well in Afghanistan, as he did in Iraq. Although this is a period of transition, President Obama and Democrats remain committed and ever grateful to our men and women in uniform, and absolutely focused on taking the fight to the terrorists and keeping our nation safe.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also signaled his support for dumping McChrystal, to prevent “any distractions from achieving our objectives” in Afghanistan.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released similar comments, and vowed to begin confirmation hearings on the nomination of Petraeus no later than this coming Tuesday.
“For many reasons, General Petraeus is a solid choice to take over in Afghanistan. He provides strength and continuity. Indeed, he was the architect of the counter-insurgency strategy — he literally wrote the book setting it out,” Levin says. “He also agrees with both key parts of that strategy: first, that additional troops be surged into Afghanistan by the end of the summer, and, second, that there be reductions in our troops levels in Afghanistan beginning in July 2011 as the essential way of getting the Afghans to focus on the need to transition to them the responsibility for their own security.”
It’s a bit remarkable that Petraeus could win such solid support so quickly from Democrats given that Petraeus is best known as an architect of a war in Iraq begun by their erstwhile nemesis, former president George W. Bush.
Petraeus became such a lightning rod among the Left for his role in that war that the prominent advocacy group MoveOn.org took out a controversial ad in 2007 which made a play on Petraeus’ name to label him, “General Betray Us,” allegedly whitewashing the truth about the Iraq conflict in a report to Congress.
MoveOn.org reportedly maintained web pages about that advertisement on the Internet in the years since, but allegedly pulled them down on Wednesday. Links to those pages do appear to now redirect users elsewhere on the MoveOn.org website.
Despite the outpouring of support for Petraeus among congressional Democrats, one of the Senate’s most notable war critics continued to voice concern for the direction of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, which has been underway since 2002 and has claimed more than 1,000 American lives.
“The comments of General McChrystal and his aides were very troubling, and the president’s decision to accept his resignation is appropriate,” says Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), who recently lost a vote to force a timetable on further U.S. operations in Afghanistan. “But I continue to have strong concerns about our misguided policy in Afghanistan. The massive, open-ended military operation in Afghanistan will cost a hundred billion dollars this year with no end in sight. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continues to operate and recruit around the world. After nine years, it is time to give the American people, as well as the people of Afghanistan, a timetable to end this war so our nation is better able to focus on the global threat posed by al Qaeda and its affiliates.”
Feingold, however, is not a member of the Armed Services panel, and therefore won’t have an opportunity to question Petraeus directly in the confirmation hearings.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.