Iraqi war critic Robert C. Byrd became one of only two senators Thursday voting against the nomination of Gen. David Petraeus as the Middle East’s top commander, saying he had some reservations about the promotion.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, was the only other dissenter in the 95-2 vote for the command positions that elevated Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno to succeed Petraeus as the chief military officer in Iraq.

Petraeus came in for intense scrutiny a year ago in Congress, warning that a sudden pullout would trigger widespread chaos in Iraq. Rather, he pushed for a 30,000-troop build-up that ultimately became critical in telescoping acts of violence in the war-riddled country.

Byrd applauded the general’s “evident intelligence and his expertise and experience in Iraq,” saying the success of the surge is why he feels Petraeus needs to stay put as commander in Iraq.

“Gen. Petraeus should bring it to its conclusion before he is rewarded with a promotion,” the West Virginia Democrat said.

Historically, he said, command has been maintained in times of war from World War II to Vietnam, and continuity has proved to be a problem in Iraq.

“Since President Bush believes that Gen. Petraeus has done well in his current position, but he, Secretary Gates and Gen. Petraeus have all described the security situation in Iraq as tenuous and reversible, it does not seem prudent to remove the mastermind behind the fragile successes that have been thus far achieved,” he said.

Byrd used the occasion to take a shot at Bush for saying only a year ago that troop withdrawals can only come when military commanders say the time is right, not because good politics dictate such changes.

“That strategy does not work well, however, when you keep changing commanders,” Byrd said.

The senator said he also is concerned about the general avoiding questions on Afghanistan and Iran at his nomination hearing.

“Such evasiveness is not politic,” Byrd said.

“It is troubling at a time when news reports suggest that the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan and that President Bush may be contemplating military action against Iran.”

— E-mail:

mannix@register-herald.com

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