MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Aside from the debate on the troops resolution, Senator Levin's committee heard from President Bush's nominee to be Army chief of staff today. General George Casey faced some tough questions, many of them from Republicans. Casey has been the top U.S. commander in Iraq for the past two and a half years, and has heard his share of criticism for the conduct of the war. Casey told lawmakers he had actually asked for a fewer troops than President Bush is deploying to Baghdad.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: The harshest criticism came from Arizona Senator John McCain, a long time supporter of the war who has at the same time been a critic of the war's conduct. McCain, a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, said that while he has grave concerns about Casey, he is inclined to support his nomination.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): And 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 as commander of multi-national forces in Iraq. During that time, things have gotten markedly and progressively worse, and the situation in Iraq can now best be described as dire and deteriorating.
NAYLOR: Casey, however, told the panel he doesn't see it that way. He testified that in his words, the struggle is winnable, but that it will take patience and will. McCain reminded him that others who have testified recently, including the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said, in McCain's words, we aren't winning and we have a failed strategy.
Senator McCAIN: Do you agree with that? Do you agree that we have a failed policy and we are not winning?
General GEORGE CASEY (Coalition Commander): Senator, I do not agree that we have a failed policy. I believe the president's new strategy will enhance the policy that we have.
NAYLOR: That strategy, as outlined by President Bush, involves sending another four to five brigades, or more than 20,000 troops, into Iraq, mostly to Baghdad. Casey testified that he felt only two additional brigades were necessary, but that after a mid-November reevaluation of strategy, he agreed to request more. Virginia Republican John Warner pressed Casey on why he initially didn't request additional forces.
Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): Could it have been because your concern and that of General Abizaid that the bringing on of additional troops was going into the face of a rising resentment among the Iraqi people for more and more troops?
General CASEY: Senator, my general belief is I did not want to bring one more American soldier into Iraq than was necessary to accomplish the mission. And so, what I asked for was the two brigades and the ability to maintain a reserve in Kuwait in case I needed additional flexibility.
NAYLOR: Casey said he accepted responsibility for what went wrong during his tenure in Iraq, though Warner said the civilians who devised the policy deserved the blame. And while Casey came in for much criticism at today's hearing, the chairman of the panel, Democrat Carl Levin, said he will support Casey's nomination, and it's likely most, if not all, of the rest of the committee will too.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, The Capitol.
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