Updated: June 29, 9:01 p.m.
President Barack Obama’s nomination of Gen. David Petraeus to be the next top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan was reported out of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday on a unanimous voice vote.
The Senate is scheduled to hold a confirmation vote at noon Wednesday.
The committee’s approval of Petraeus came after the general sat for questioning before panel members during a relatively uneventful hearing that lasted only half a day. Most of the questions posed to Petraeus — by Democrats and Republicans alike — concerned the July 2011 target set by President Barack Obama for beginning the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Petraeus was careful about how he answered such questions, as he walked a fine line between making clear that he supports Obama administration policies but remains committed to winning the war, even if that means maintaining troop levels beyond the July 2011 deadline.
“Let’s think about it from enemy’s perspective and perspective of our friends,” Petraeus said in response to a question by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) about the withdrawal deadline. “They should be assured that we’re going to pursue the enemy relentlessly.”
In a brief interview following his somewhat pointed exchange with Petraeus, Graham said he remains confused about administration policy concerning the withdrawal date. Some White House officials have indicated that the July 2011 deadline is inflexible; others have suggested it would be based on conditions on the ground at the time.
Graham has been adamant that the president’s policy of imposing a deadline for withdrawal in advance of victory could jeopardize the success of the mission. Graham, otherwise a supporter of Petraeus, said he was “absolutely not” satisfied with the general’s response to his questions regarding the withdrawal deadline.
“It’s indecipherable,” Graham said. “You’ve got statements made by [White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel, by the Vice President [Joseph Biden] … that are just indecipherable. What [Petraeus] is trying to say, I think, is to reassure us that we’re not going to begin to leave in July, and clearly I think that’s the intent.”
However, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin said there was nothing confusing about Petraeus’ comments on the targeted date to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
“He states very clearly what the policy is. He says he agrees with it,” the Michigan Democrat said. “There are some people who disagree with the policy who misstate it or who rely on secondhand reports. … There’s going to be a beginning of reductions in July of 2011; the pace of those reductions will be determined by the conditions that exist at that time. That’s the pace. The whether’ the reductions will begin is a decision that’s been made already. They’re going to begin.”
Petraeus was nominated last week by Obama to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. McChrystal was relieved of command after derogatory statements he made about the Obama administration’s leadership of the war was published in Rolling Stone magazine.
McChrystal announced this week that he intends to retire from the Army.