Capitol Hill Bureau Chief
Members of Congress broadly praised President Obama's decision Wednesday to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus as the top commander in Afghanistan, but the agreement on Petraeus could not mask the serious underlying tensions in Congress over the future of the war itself.
From the timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops to the civilian American leadership in Afghanistan to questions about the commitment to the mission by the administration, senators and House members used their reaction to Petreaus' new command as a proxy battle over how America should fight the war and when we should end the mission altogether.
"I continue to have strong concerns about our misguided policy in Afghanistan," said Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), a member of the crucial Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who agreed that the president was right to accept McChrystal's resignation after his disparaging comments to a Rolling Stone magazine became public.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the top Republican on the Armed Services committee, welcomed Petraeus' appointment, but outlined his concerns over the handling of the war, especially the president's commitment to begin withdrawing troops one year from now.
"The concern that we have is...exactly what is meant by withdrawal in the middle of 2011, whether that is, quote, 'etched in stone,' as the president's spokesperson, Mr. Gibbs, stated or whether it will be conditions-based," McCain said.
More Stanley McChrystal Coverage:
- McChrystal Relieved of Duty; Petraeus to Take Command in Afghanistan
- David Wood: Petraeus Takes Command as Afghan War Problems Escalate
- Jill Lawrence: Obama's Petraeus Move: Good Management -- Hold the Psychoanalysis
- Transcript of President Obama's Remarks on Gen. Stanley McChrystal
- Walter Shapiro: McChrystal, Afghanistan, and the Era of Foreign Policy Austerity
- David Corn: Will a McChrystal Dismissal Be Bad News for War Critics?
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called Petraeus, "our best hope," but said it is the civilian leadership from the State Department -- not the military leadership -- that needs to go now. "The civilian side is, in my view, completely dysfunctional," Graham said. "The relationship between the civilian leadership and President Karzai has to be changed and repaired. This is a chance to start over."
Without changes, Graham warned, "We're going to lose a war we can't afford to lose."
While Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) praised the choice of Petraeus, he also called out members of the Obama political operation for press leaks and public criticism of the Pentagon. "There has been some -- some unnecessary and, I think, harmful public discussion here in the U.S. about central points of our strategy in Afghanistan, including what the meaning is of what...the U.S. troops in Afghanistan will begin to do or won't begin to do in July of 2011."
Although Graham, Lieberman and McCain had tough criticism for the administration, all of the senators agreed that the president had no choice but to change commanders after learning about McChrystal's criticism of his team. "I am glad the president made this decision. And some other officers need to be looked at, and they need to be replaced," Graham said.
The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold confirmation hearing for Petraeus as soon as possible, but no later than Tuesday, June 29th.