MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The man nominated to become the top U.S. military commander in Iraq went to Capitol Hill today. Lieutenant General David Petraeus is expected to win full confirmation by the Senate in the coming days. Petraeus told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the situation in Iraq is dire, but he also expressed confidence in the president's new Iraq strategy.

NPR's Guy Raz sat in on the hearing and he has this report.

GUY RAZ: David Petraeus is a three-star general. In a few days, the Senate will approve a fourth one for him and a one-way ticket to Camp Victory in Baghdad, headquarters of the U.S. military operation in Iraq.

Lieutenant General DAVID PETRAEUS (U.S. Army): Many of the emails I've received in recent weeks have had as their subject line, Congratulations, I think. I understand the message they are conveying. I know how heavy a rucksack I will have to shoulder in Iraq if confirmed.

RAZ: If confirmed, is a mere formality. Petraeus is like the high school valedictorian and football captain rolled into one, a man who inspires endless clich├ęd descriptions - warrior scholar, Iraq's repairman, the new Ulysses S. Grant, or as Connecticut's Joe Lieberman says, the appointment of Petraeus is an historic moment.

Mr. JOE LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): Maybe comparable is when President Truman sent General Matthew Ridgeway to Korea to replace General Macarthur when things were bleak, and General Ridgeway succeeded.

RAZ: From Democrat to Republican to independent Democrat, the Senate Armed Services Committee got the formalities out of the way.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): There's no one in the U.S. military better suited to implement the president's new strategy than General Petraeus.

Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Thank you very much, General, for your lifetime of service and for taking on this very difficult assignment.

Senator LIEBERMAN: Your testimony this morning and your answers to the questions have been excellent.

Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Democrat, Maine): Let me echo the sentiments of everyone here.

RAZ: That was Senators McCain, Clinton, Lieberman and Susan Collins. So with the praise out of the way, members of the committee could get down to business. And surprisingly, the business had almost nothing to do with General Petraeus's confirmation. This was a hearing about Iraq and presidential politics.

Senator Clinton, for example, used her allotted eight minutes to lecture her colleagues. She never even asked the general any questions.

Senator CLINTON: We are in a dire situation, using your adjective, in part because the Congress was supine under the Republican majority, failing to conduct oversight and demanding accountability and because the president and his team, particularly the former secretary of defense, refused to adapt to the changing circumstances on the ground.

RAZ: A few seats over from Clinton, Senator John McCain, the presumed Republican mantle bearer in 2008, just wanted everyone else to know that he and Petraeus agree on lots of things.

Senator MCCAIN: Suppose we send you over to your new job, General, only we tell you that you can't have any additional troops. Can you get your job done?

General PETRAEUS: No, sir.

Senator MCCAIN: Suppose that we send you additional troops and we tell those troops that we support you but we are convinced that you cannot accomplish your mission, what effect does that have on the morale of your troops?

General PETRAEUS: Well, it would not be a beneficial effect, sir.

RAZ: McCain wasn't disguising his targets of vitriol. Senators Carl Levin, Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, John Warner and Susan Collins all sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee and all of them plan to pass some kind of resolution opposing the president's so-called surge plan. Petraeus was reluctantly roped into it before politely asking if he could be excused from the politics.

General PETRAEUS: This is not about being beholden to anyone. This is not about, again, being aligned with any party or anyone else. I will give you my best professional military advice, and if people don't like it then they can find someone else to give better professional military advice.

RAZ: For the moment, at least, the president and the Senate Armed Services Committee have decided there is no such person.

Guy Raz, NPR News. Washington.

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