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Gen. Casey Faces Criticism in Senate Confirmation Hearing

Gen. George Casey, nominated to become the next Army chief of staff, testified Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, fielding questions about the need for more troops in Iraq and criticism about his record as top American commander in that country. Analysts discuss the nomination.

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    The Senate Armed Services Committee focused on Gen. George Casey's two-and-a-half years in Iraq, as they considered his nomination to be Army chief of staff. Casey responded only occasionally, as Republican senators dominated the proceedings with their concerns about the president's troop increase plan and their attacks on Casey for the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

    Among the chief critics was Arizona Republican John McCain, a supporter of the president's troop buildup.

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: While I do not in any way question your honor, your patriotism, or your service to our country, I do question some of the decisions and judgments you've made over the past two-and-a-half years as commander of multinational forces in Iraq.

    During that time, things have gotten markedly and progressively worse, and the situation in Iraq can now best be described as dire and deteriorating. I regret that our window of opportunity to reverse momentum may be closing.


    In response to McCain's recitation of numerous optimistic statements Casey had made about Iraq in the past, the general defended his assessments and insisted the fight was not lost.


    What we and the Iraqis are doing in Iraq is hard, tough business. Fighting this type of campaign while rebuilding a dilapidated infrastructure, building a representative government where none existed before, and reconciling ethnic and sectarian differences makes it even more difficult and complex. The struggle in Iraq is winnable, but it will, as I have said before to this committee, take patience and will.


    On the issue of troop increases, Casey explained that, back in November 2006, he had requested two brigades, between 6,000 and 10,000 troops, but that request was separate from the president's plan announced last month.

    Casey said his widely reported opposition to troop increases was misconstrued and that he supports the new Bush plan. Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan asked what had changed his view.


    What has changed, senator, are several things: one, the development of a plan, a new plan, that was conceived by the Iraqis, in working in concert with us. So there was a plan that laid out requirements for those forces.

    So just to say "Do you need more forces?" is one thing; to say "Do you need more forces to execute this plan?" is quite another.


    McCain bored in on Casey's opinion of the troop increase and on Casey's view that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was not a failure.


    Do you believe that the new job can be done with less than five brigades that Gen. Petraeus says he needs?


    I believe that the job in Baghdad, as it's designed now, can be done with less than that. But having the flexibility to have the other three brigades on a deployment cycle gives us and gives Gen. Petraeus great flexibility.


    And this is a time when almost all of us major concern and military experts' major concern is whether five brigades are enough. And a very short time ago, you simply asked for two brigades.

    We just have a fundamental disagreement, Gen. Casey, with facts on the ground and with what has happened in Iraq, over now one of the longest wars in our history, and where we are today. I question seriously the judgment that was employed in your execution of your responsibilities in Iraq.

    And we have paid a very, very heavy price in American blood and treasure because of what is now agreed to by literally everyone as a failed policy.


    Later, under questioning from Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner, Casey explained why he had originally made the smaller troop request.


    I did not want to bring one more American soldier into Iraq than was necessary to accomplish the mission. And so what I asked for was the two brigades and the ability to maintain a reserve in Kuwait, in case I needed additional flexibility.


    Warner is the author of a bipartisan resolution expressing concern over the troop increase, which has opened divisions within the Republican caucus. He took pains to absolve Casey of responsibility for the situation in Iraq.

    SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), Virginia: I know full well how, under our Constitution, ever since George Washington, civilians are in charge of our military. They devise the policy; they issue the orders.

    And our military individuals carry out those orders or, at times, I've seen senior officers respectfully disagree and, frankly, resign rather than carry out a policy which they feel is wrong.

    I judge that the policy and the orders that you carried out were consistent with those traditions and that you were given orders.