WASHINGTON – The Senate 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, despite months of partisan wrangling in Congress over the Iraq war.
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.
With security gains being described as fragile, "it does not seem prudent to remove the mastermind behind the fragile successes that have been thus far achieved," said Byrd, D-W.Va.
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 hotspots, which eventually proved vital in tamping down violence.
Odierno, as Petraeus' deputy commander in Iraq, is credited with successfully managing the new strategy.
In their new jobs, Odierno will receive a fourth star and report to Petraeus, whose area of responsibility will broaden to include such countries as Iran and Pakistan.
By mid-July, the Pentagon is on track to withdraw the last of the additional combat brigades sent as part of the build-up, leaving behind roughly 142,000 troops. During his nomination hearing in May, Petraeus told Congress that he is likely to recommend more troop reductions this fall.
Petraeus would replace Navy Adm. William J. Fallon as chief of U.S. Central Command. Fallon resigned last month following news reports that he was at odds with the White House over Iran policy.