The Senate on Thursday handily confirmed Gen. David Petraeus as the top commander in the Middle East and Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno to replace Petraeus as the chief military officer in Iraq.
The Senate voted 95-2 in favor of Petraeus with Democratic Sens. Robert Byrd and Tom Harkin opposing. Harkin, D-Iowa, cast the lone vote opposing Odierno, who was confirmed 96-1.
The Senate action will keep the nation on its present course in Iraq for the remainder of the year. It also will hand the next administration a pair of combat-tested commanders who have relentlessly defended the need to keep troops in Iraq in large numbers, rather than wind down combat operations.
Despite their firm backing of the politically unpopular war, Petraeus and Odierno drew little criticism from congressional Democrats who typically reserve their sharpest critiques for Bush and his political appointees.
“This continuity in U.S. military leadership will be helpful in working with regional and Iraqi political and military leaders,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Byrd, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he opposed Petraeus in part because the general should see through operations in Iraq.
Harkin spokeswoman Jennifer Mullin said the senator believes that “Petraeus has been an unapologetic supporter of this misguided war in Iraq, continually toeing the administration's party line” while Odierno is guilty of “serious flaws in judgment.”
Odierno has “refused to characterize the insurgency that began after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime as anything that was serious and worthy of a shift in U.S. strategy,” Mullin said in a statement.
Last year, Petraeus helped to tame growing opposition to the Iraq war in Congress by providing measured assessments of progress and warning that an exodus of U.S. troops would result in chaos. In the meantime, he advocated a buildup of some 30,000 troops in Baghdad and other hot spots, which eventually proved vital in tamping down violence.
Odierno, as Petraeus' deputy commander in Iraq, is credited with successfully managing the new strategy.