Why Does Gen. Petraeus Need To Be Confirmed? : It's All Politics One reader would like to know why Gen. David Petraeus needed to be confirmed to his position as head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
NPR logo Why Does Gen. Petraeus Need To Be Confirmed?

Why Does Gen. Petraeus Need To Be Confirmed?

A question from reader Gary Mann of Columbia, S.C.:

I don't understand why General David Petraeus needs to win Senate confirmation when McChrystal did not.

Actually, Gen. Stanley McChrystal indeed was confirmed by the Senate, on June 10, 2009, when he succeeded Gen. David McKiernan, who was fired, as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.  The vote, as in the case today with Petraeus, was unanimous.

You may remember that during the time of his confirmation hearings, Mary Tillman was harshly critical of McChrystal's role in the friendly-fire death of her son, former NFL star Pat Tillman, saying the general repeatedly lied about the matter.

But as to your original question, federal law calls for Senate confirmation for specific ranks of military officers, including this one.  Here's the actual language, as found in U.S. Code:

The President may designate positions of importance and responsibility to carry the grade of general or admiral or lieutenant general or vice admiral. The President may assign to any such position an officer of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps who is serving on active duty in any grade above colonel or, in the case of an officer of the Navy, any grade above captain. An officer assigned to any such position has the grade specified for that position if he is appointed to that grade by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate [emphasis mine].

And speaking of McChrystal, Audrey Malan of Dayton, Wyo., asks a question that many others have wondered about:

Do you think McChrystal did this [the Rolling Stone interview] on purpose to get out of Afghanistan?  He is not a stupid guy. ... This just seems like too dumb of a mistake for such a smart man..

I never thought McChrystal deliberately sabotaged his own career, but my first thought was also, what was he thinking when he shared his and his staff's thoughts with that reporter? And was he thinking?

Yes, it was clear he had disdain for President Obama and the administration's strategy in Afghanistan.  And maybe he felt that others shared his misgivings.  But you don't question policy while staying in uniform.  For all I know, Petraeus may hold the same viewpoint on the war as McChrystal.  But Petraeus has always had the political smarts to know how to play the game.  McChrystal never did.