STEVE INSKEEP, host:
On the same day that President Bush appealed for Americans to give his Iraq Strategy a chance, his chosen commander got a chance to explain what he'd do. The president nominated General David Petraeus for the top military job in Iraq. His promotion requires Senate confirmation. And yesterday's hearing was a kind of dance. The general faced a row of lawmakers who will be watching everything he does.
NPR's Guy Raz reports.
GUY RAZ: There are 25 members on the Senate Armed Services Committee and they've got a lot of power. Every major military appointment or confirmation has to pass through these 25 senators.
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The chairman is Michigan Democrat Carl Levin. And he starts each meeting by laying out the ground rules.
Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan; Chairman, Armed Services Committee): We'll have a eight-minute round to begin with.
RAZ: Now, one of the best ways for a military commander to ingratiate himself with these senators is to admit mistakes in Iraq. Here's just one example. You'll hear Connecticut's Joe Lieberman.
Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): General Petraeus, you have said this morning that serious mistakes have been made in the conduct of the war in Iraq since Saddam was overthrown in 2003. Is that right?
General DAVID PETRAEUS: That's correct.
Sen. LIEBERMAN: And you have also said that you understand and appreciate the disappointment of the American people and the representatives here in Congress about the lack of progress in the war in Iraq today.
Gen. PETRAEUS: That is correct, sir.
RAZ: Another common approach is to get the military commander to agree with your own views, but in a roundabout way. Here's John McCain.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Suppose we send you over to your new job, general, and when we tell you that we can't have - you can't have any additional troops, can you get your job done?
Gen. PETRAEUS: No, sir.
Sen. 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 morality of troops?
Gen. PETRAEUS: Well, it would not be a beneficial effect, sir.
RAZ: And then, there are those senators who simply aren't interested in asking questions at all. Like Hillary Clinton, who used her eight minutes to rail against sending more troops to Iraq.
Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): And I disapprove of the policy. I think it is a dead end. It continues the blank check. But if we're going to do it, then let's make sure we have every possible piece of equipment and resource necessary to protect these young men and women that we're asking to go out and put this policy forward when we're not doing the political side of the equation that is necessary to maximize the chance for their safety and success.
RAZ: Now, you may be forgiven for wondering whether this hearing was about General Petraeus at all. He still has to be confirmed by this committee before he can fly out to takeover command in Iraq. Almost every senator indicated support, relieved to be dealing with a military commander who is prepared to tell it like it is. So, finally, here he is, General Petraeus.
Gen. PETRAEUS: This is not about being beholden to anyone. 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: The president is sending Petraeus off to save America in Iraq. The Senate wants his to save the military from the president. And Petraeus, ever the diplomat, knows how to walk between those drops of rain.
Guy Raz, NPR News, Washington.
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