WASHINGTON – The Senate majority leader took aim Thursday at the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who until now has received little criticism from Capitol Hill over his statements or performance.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., charged that Army Gen. David Petraeus, who took command in Iraq four months ago, “isn’t in touch with what’s going on in Baghdad.” He also indicated that he thinks Petraeus has not been sufficiently open in his testimony to Congress. Noting that Petraeus, who is now on his third tour of duty in Iraq, oversaw the training of Iraqi troops during his second stint there, Reid said, “He told us it was going great; as we’ve looked back, it didn’t go so well.”
Reid seemed most provoked by an article in Thursday’s edition of USA Today, which quoted the general as saying that he sees “astonishing signs of normalcy” in the Iraqi capital. “I’m talking about professional soccer leagues with real grass field stadiums, several amusement parks – big ones, markets that are very vibrant,” Petraeus told the newspaper.
The general’s comments came on the same day the Pentagon released to Congress a quarterly report on security in Iraq. It said the three-month-old U.S. counteroffensive in Baghdad has not curtailed overall violence in the country but has instead shifted it from inside the Iraqi capital to places around it.
“I was a little disappointed, to say the least, today reading the USA Today newspaper, where he’s saying things are going fine,” Reid told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Hinting that Petraeus may be greeted skeptically at his much-anticipated testimony in September on the state of the Iraq war, Reid said he is “waiting to see if General Petraeus can be a little more candid with this.”
That joint appearance by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, is expected to set the stage for a new round of congressional debate on the future of the U.S. effort in that country.
Reid has not shied away from controversy in dealing with Iraq. In April, the Democratic leader was criticized by Republicans when he declared, “I believe myself that … this war is lost and that the surge is not accomplishing anything.”
Petraeus couldn’t be reached for a comment.
Despite his focus on Petraeus’ comments Thursday, Reid’s unhappiness with the general appears to be more than a one-day matter. The Politico, a Washington newspaper, reported Thursday that, in a conversation Tuesday with liberal bloggers, Reid disparaged both Petraeus and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff whom the administration recently decided not to nominate for a second two-year term. Reid called Pace “incompetent,” Politico reported.
Asked about that in the news conference, Reid did not confirm the use of the word but he did not appear to dispute it, either. He said he told Pace “to his face” that “I felt that he has not done a very good job in speaking out for some obvious things that weren’t going right in Iraq.” Asked if he thought Petraeus was incompetent, the senator said, “No, not as far as I’m concerned.”
White House spokesman Tony Snow joined the debate, beginning his briefing Thursday by attacking Reid. “At a time of war, for a leader of a party that says it supports the military, it seems outrageous to be issuing slanders toward the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and also the man who’s responsible for the bulk of military operations in Iraq,” he said.