McCain May Oppose Pick For Army Staff Chief

By R. Jeffrey Smith and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 22, 2007

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said yesterday that he is inclined to oppose President Bush's appointment of Gen. George W. Casey Jr. as the new Army chief of staff, on the grounds that Casey's 2 1/2 -year tenure as U.S. military leader in Iraq was marked by "failed leadership."

McCain, the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, which must confirm Casey's appointment, and a likely presidential candidate in 2008, accused Casey of presiding over "a failed policy" in Iraq, in which McCain said Iraqi forces were expected too quickly to assume growing responsibility for security matters there.

Reiterating his support for the troop "surge" to Iraq announced recently by President Bush, McCain said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that U.S. policy had produced Iraqi turmoil so bad that, if no change were made, "within months we would see a total breakdown in Iraq." The result, he said, would be ethnic cleansing between rival religious groups in the capital on the scale of that in Srebrenica, where Serbian military forces slaughtered 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in 1995.

"We can't expect Americans to sit outside Baghdad or outside the borders and watch such a thing go on," McCain said.

While he said he preferred a larger troop buildup than the new 21,500-person deployment proposed by Bush, McCain said the new U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, had assured him that if Petraeus "needed more, he would receive them."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to take up resolutions on Iraq on Wednesday, some nonbinding and others that would cap the number of U.S. troops there or reduce future funding for American or Iraqi security forces.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the committee and co-sponsor of a bipartisan, nonbinding resolution that would put senators on record as opposing Bush's plan, said votes on other approaches would not deliver a muddled message.

"There's an overwhelming . . . consensus that we should deescalate the war," he added during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday."

Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said on the same program, "It will be a very powerful message if a bipartisan majority of the Congress say that they disagree with the increased military involvement in Iraq." He added that could only be a first step: "If the president does not take heed to that step, at that point, you then consider another step."

Levin warned, however, "The worst thing we can do is to vote on something which is critical of the current policy and lose it, because if we lose that vote, the president will use the defeat of a resolution as support for his policy."

Unlike Petraeus, Casey has been privately skeptical about the wisdom of deploying five new brigades now. He argued last year that the presence of U.S. troops was fostering an unhealthy Iraqi dependency on foreign assistance. After publicly embracing Bush's plan, however, Casey said that it could make Baghdad residents begin to feel safe in their neighborhoods by the end of the summer.

McCain retorted yesterday: "It's taken us nearly four years to get to this desperate situation we're in today. So to think that within three or four months or a short period of time that we could retrieve the situation, I think, is just foolishness."

McCain has previously sought to deny military promotions to officers whose work in Iraq displeased him, including several associated with policies that he said had led to the abuse of U.S. military detainees there. While not promising outright to oppose Casey's appointment, he said, "I have hard questions to ask him, and I'm very skeptical about it."

Levin has said he is inclined to back Casey.

Meanwhile, McCain faces opposition from some Republican lawmakers who disagree with his endorsement of the troop buildup.

Among the members of the Foreign Relations Committee, according to Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), "I don't believe there was one Republican senator who came forward with any kind of enthusiasm or any kind of strong support of the president's plan."

"The party that I first voted for on top of a tank in the Mekong Delta in 1968 is not the party I see today," Hagel said on CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday.

As for the nonbinding resolution, McCain called it "basically a vote of no confidence in the men and women we are sending over there."

McCain, whom polls have shown running neck and neck among potential voters with newly announced Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, said yesterday that the senator from New York would make a "serious president." He did not reiterate his February 2005 comment that she would make a "good president."

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