General Parries Senate Attacks On Iraq Record

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
February 2, 2007
Pg. 1

By David S. Cloud
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 — The departing American commander in Iraq defended his record on Thursday against withering criticism from some Senate Republicans and said Baghdad could be stabilized with far fewer additional troops than President Bush planned to send.
The appearance by the commander, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., before the Senate Armed Services Committee underscored the anger that dominates much Congressional sentiment on Iraq as well as the tensions between the White House and the military over Mr. Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.
Republicans who had lauded General Casey for most of his tenure in Iraq criticized what they described as his overly optimistic projections and his unwillingness to admit sooner that the American strategy in Iraq was not working.
General Casey spoke as the Senate moved toward a vote early next week on a nonbinding but significant resolution expressing disagreement with Mr. Bush’s decision to send more troops to Iraq.
The general appeared before the committee as part of the confirmation process following his nomination to be the Army’s chief of staff.
In a series of sharp exchanges, Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the panel, criticized General Casey for what he said had been an overly narrow focus on training and equipping Iraqi troops and for the general’s reluctance to ask for additional forces.
“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,” said Mr. McCain, long an advocate of sending more troops to Iraq.
But General Casey stood his ground, saying that he believed that the plan to secure Baghdad could probably be accomplished with only two additional American brigades, not the five sought by Mr. Bush. Other troops should be sent only if the new American commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, determines that they are needed, he said.
General Casey also said he disagreed with Mr. Bush’s characterization of the Iraq effort last month as “maybe a slow failure.”
“I actually don’t see it as a slow failure; I see it as slow progress,” said General Casey, whom Mr. Bush replaced to underscore a shift in strategy in Iraq and then nominated to fill the Army chief of staff position.
Mr. McCain and another Republican, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are leading the opposition to the resolutions criticizing the Bush plan, but key Democrats threw their support on Thursday behind a proposal by Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican, that could put the Senate on record against the White House strategy.
The tough questioning of General Casey came not just from some Republicans but from Democrats seeking to blame what they described as the administration’s faulty strategy for the lack of progress in Iraq. But General Casey said that administration officials like former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who shared his belief in holding down troop levels, had never blocked him from asking for more forces.
“The strategy that I articulated here today is my strategy, and I believe in it,” he said. “It may not have produced the results on the timelines that people expected or wanted, but I do believe that it has laid the foundation for our ultimate success in Iraq.” Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham proved to be General Casey’s sharpest critics on the panel, taking issue with his performance since he took command in 2004 and noting that the Bush administration’s decision to dispatch more troops to Iraq to secure Baghdad represented a rejection of the general’s recommendations.
Mr. McCain, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, also criticized General Casey for giving what he called “optimistic and rosy scenarios” about progress in Iraq.
In response, General Casey conceded that the situation in Baghdad now was “definitely deteriorating.” He said he supported the new Bush strategy, which he described as an “enhancement” of his approach, and noted that he had asked for and received additional troops at least six times.
But he said that his guiding philosophy, one that was widely shared until recently by senior administration officials, had been to ask for the minimum number of American forces, both to hold down casualties and to avoid deterring Iraq’s government from taking responsibility for its own security.
The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, said General Casey’s comments about wanting only two brigades, or about 7,000 troops, to secure Baghdad, reflected his initial views last year in discussions with the White House.
“There were a number of conversations, and the president — after talking with General Casey and other commanders — came to the conclusion that he preferred to have five brigades into Baghdad and 4,000 marines into Anbar,” Mr. Snow said. “What General Casey was talking about is some suggestions he’d made earlier. The president has made his decision, and it does reflect the wisdom of a number of combatant commanders and it does have the assent of General Casey.”
Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is the committee chairman, told reporters after the hearing that General Casey had his support and that of a majority of members. A committee vote on his nomination is likely next week, Mr. Levin said.
A Congressional Budget Office estimate released Thursday concluded that sending additional troops to Iraq could cost $20 billion if the forces remained for a year but $9 billion if the forces stayed for only four months. As much as $15 billion would pay for the 15,000 support troops that the budget office assumed might be needed along with the 21,500 troops in combat units being sent by the Bush administration.
The budget office said it reached the estimate by looking at the ratio of combat troops to support troops already in Iraq. But an Army official said the estimate overstated the cost of the deployment because, with a large contingent of Army support troops already in Iraq and Kuwait, only about 3,000 support troops were likely to be required. The official said the Army did not have its own estimate of the costs.
Meanwhile, Michael McConnell, the Bush administration’s nominee to be the next director of national intelligence, said that a long-awaited intelligence analysis about Iraq would be delivered to lawmakers on Friday. The so-called national intelligence estimate will give the assessment of America’s 16 intelligence agencies about the sectarian violence and prospects in Iraq.
Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting.