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Levin: Petraeus Confirmation Hearing to Occur by Tuesday

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Wednesday that the confirmation hearing for Gen. David Petraeus as the new top commander in Afghanistan would occur no later than Tuesday.

Levin said he foresaw no difficulty in Petraeus’ quick confirmation as Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s replacement, saying the hearing might even get under way absent receiving official nomination papers from the White House. President Barack Obama nominated Petraeus to lead the Afghanistan war effort after accepting McChrystal’s offer to resign in the wake of controversial comments he made to Rolling Stone magazine.

“Hopefully, if we have a quorum, which I expect we would, we could take a vote, theoretically, the same day as we have the hearing,” Levin said. “If we’re ready to go by next Monday, we’re going to go.”

Levin said Monday appeared to be the earliest the hearing could be held. The Armed Services chairman said he met privately on Wednesday with Petraeus and that anytime Tuesday or before would be fine with him.

Levin pushed back against Republican criticism of Obama’s Afghanistan policy that seeks to couple the type of counterinsurgency that Petraeus implemented in Iraq with a firm date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Levin said Petraeus has told him that he favors sticking with the end date, adding that only a firm date would motivate the Afghans to do what was necessary to build an army capable of taking the place of the U.S. military and assuming responsibility for their own security.

“He supports the policy and the decision of the commander in chief that there will be reductions in our troop levels in Afghanistan beginning in July of 2011. And he supports this because it is the essential way of getting the Afghans to focus on the need to transition to them the responsibility of their own security,” Levin said.

“Gen. Petraeus made clear last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee his agreement with that policy, and he also made it clear then, and he reiterated it to me this afternoon in my office, that what will be conditions-based is not whether reductions begin in July 2011 but the pace of those reductions,” Levin added.

Levin declined to join Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) in criticizing Afghanistan Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, although neither did he offer him a ringing endorsement. McCain earlier Wednesday suggested that Obama should consider appointing Ryan Crocker as the new ambassador to Afghanistan, although he did not call for Eikenberry’s dismissal.

Crocker has a strong relationship with Petraeus, serving as ambassador to Iraq while Petraeus commanded the successful military surge and counterinsurgency policy there. Eikenberry and McChrystal do not get along, and much of the criticism of the Obama administration’s civilian leadership in Afghanistan published in Rolling Stone was directed at the ambassador and White House Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke.

“I don’t think it’s helpful for me to be speculating on that kind of a change,” Levin said. “I don’t think [U.S. civilian leadership] is dysfunctional, I think there’s been some disagreement, which was pretty well known” even before arguments between McChrystal and the ambassador were publicized in the magazine.

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