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Petraeus Hears Senate Panel's Take on Iraq

Sen. John McCain, left, beside Sen. John Warner, posed questions that made his views on Iraq strategy clear.
Brendan Smialowski
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Getty Images
Sen. John McCain, left, beside Sen. John Warner, posed questions that made his views on Iraq strategy clear.
Lt. Gen. David Petraeus awaits the start of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
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Getty Images
Lt. Gen. David Petraeus awaits the start of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, meeting with Petraeus before the hearing, later voiced her objections to an increase in troop strength in Iraq.
Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
Sen. Hillary Clinton, meeting with Petraeus before the hearing, later voiced her objections to an increase in troop strength in Iraq.

There are 25 members on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and they wield a lot of power. Every major military appointment or confirmation has to pass through them.

One of the best ways for a military commander to ingratiate himself with these senators is to admit mistakes in Iraq.

So as the soon-to-be top ground commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, met Senators Tuesday, he told them the situation in Iraq is "dire."

The hearing — required as Petraeus is confirmed for a job that will give him a fourth star, making him one of the Army's most senior officers — was really a sort of dance as various senators sought to make their own points about the conflict in Iraq.

"General Petraeus, you have said serious mistakes were made in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003?" asked Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT).

"That's correct," Petraeus said.

Lieberman pressed on: "And you've said you understand and appreciate the disappoinment of the American people?"

"That is correct, sir," came the reply.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), used his time to make some of his points in a round-about fashion.

"Suppose we send you over to your new job, general, only we tell you you can't have additional troops," said McCain. "Can you get your job done?"

"No sir," Petraeus said.

"Suppose that we send you additional troops and we tell those troops that we support you, but we are convinced you cannot accomplish your mission. What effect would that have on your troops?" asked McCain.

"Well, it would not be a beneficial one, sir," Petraeus said.

And some senators weren't interested in asking questions at all.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) used her eight minutes to rail against sending more troops to Iraq.

"And I disapprove of the policy, I think it's a dead end," she said. "But if we're gonna do it, let's make sure we give these young men and women everything when we're not doing the political equiation to match for their safety and success."

In the end, almost every senator indicated support for Petraeus, who does have a reputation for telling it like it is.

"This is not about being beholden to anybody," Petraeus said. "This is about giving my best professional military advice and if people don't like it they can find someone else to give their best professional military advice."

President Bush is sending Petraeus off to save America in Iraq. The Senate wants him to save the military from the president. And Petraeus — ever the diplomat — knows how to walk between the drops of rain.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Guy Raz
Guy Raz is an independent producer who has been described by the New York Times as "one of the most popular podcasters in history."