By ANNE FLAHERTY
The Associated Press
Friday, June 15, 2007; 2:29 AM
WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid caused a stir Thursday when he said Gen. Peter Pace failed in his job of providing Congress a candid assessment on the Iraq war and that he was concerned Gen. David Petraeus might be guilty of the same.
Democrats typically have shied from stinging comments on military officers, instead focusing on President Bush and administration policies in Iraq. Republicans responded vigorously to the change against Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
Said White House spokesman Tony Snow: "In a time of war, for a leader of a party that says it supports the military, it seems outrageous to be issuing slanders toward the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and also the man that is responsible for the bulk of military operations in Iraq."
Added Mike Duncan, chairman of the Republican National Committee: "Harry Reid doesn't understand that there are some lines you just don't cross."
The switch in the Democrats' focus began last week when they told Defense Secretary Robert Gates they would challenge Pace if he were nominated for a second two-year term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They cited his role as the president's closest military adviser on a failing war.
"A vote for or against Pace then becomes a metaphor for where do you stand on the way the war is handled," said the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Reid, D-Nev., went further Thursday when he said he was happy to hear of Pace's departure. The majority leader stopped short of calling Pace incompetent and declined to confirm a report in "The Politico" that he had done so earlier in the week in a private phone call to a group of liberal bloggers.
But he essentially said as much when he told reporters that Pace "had not done a very good job in speaking out for some obvious things that weren't going right in Iraq."
Reid said he also was concerned about Petraeus, who told USA Today this week that there are "astonishing signs of normalcy" throughout the majority of Baghdad. Petraeus was quoted as saying, "I'm talking about professional soccer leagues with real grass field stadiums, several amusement parks, big ones, markets that are very vibrant."
Reid said the remark "gives you a feeling that he's not in touch with what is really going on in Iraq or just trying to make the president feel good."
The senator said in a statement later that he hopes that Adm. Michael Mullen, if confirmed as Pace's successor, "will speak up and pull no punches."
Reid's criticism of the two generals led to an immediate and angry backlash from Republicans.
"The debate about this war has gone into the gutter when the Democrat leader of the United States Senate uses disparaging remarks to describe our military leadership," said Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.
Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Reid "needs to clarify his criticisms, which can only be described as highly inappropriate and regrettable."
Sen. John Warner, the No. 2 Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said congressional leaders should be allowed to speak freely on their assessment of military officers. But he indicated he was concerned that any suggestion Pace was incompetent could undercut the morale of the troops.
"How this will affect the troops remains to be seen," Warner said. "But that is a factor I hope (Reid) weighed before making that statement."
Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, D-Calif., said Wednesday she thought Pace was guilty of a dereliction of duty because of his support for Bush's Iraq policy.
Tauscher, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Pace lost standing among members in March when he said homosexual acts were immoral and that the military should not condone the behavior by letting gays serve openly. Pace later apologized, including in a letter to Tauscher, for expressing what he said were his personal views.
Tauscher said his comments on gays "showed his ignorance" and "had to be deeply discounted because they came from a man who had presided over a war that we got into on a lie and what I consider to be a serious dereliction of duty in having our troops and our readiness so destroyed by the policies of this administration."
A spokeswoman for Pace, Marine Col. Katie Haddock, said Pace "is focused on his duties as chairman and is not going to respond to press reports on who's saying what. He will let 40 years of service speak for itself." A spokesman for Petraeus in Baghdad did not immediately respond to an e-mail request, sent late Thursday evening, for comment.
Associated Press writer Ben Feller contributed to this report.