Earlier this month, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced their opposition to the nomination of Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. “While Mr. Hill is a talented diplomat who has served our country for many years, his selection for this post concerns us,” said the two senators in a statement. The McCain/Graham statement was the first shot fired by “a cadre of Senate Republicans” aiming to sink Hill’s nomination.
But the senators’ effort to derail Hill took a major hit today when Foreign Policy’s Laura Rozen reported that “Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus, top Iraq commander Gen. Raymond Odierno, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are frustrated by the delay in getting a U.S. ambassador confirmed and into place in Iraq.” Though Rozen’s initial report was based on anonymous sources, she later updated with an on the record statement from the Pentagon:
The U.S. military chief spokesman Geoff Morrell told The Cable Thursday: “Generals Odierno and Petraeus have come out very publicly and very forcefully in support of Amb. Hill’s nomination. I know they support it. They know him from previous assignments, they like him, they believe he is well suited to the job and are anxiously awaiting his confirmation because they do need help, frankly. … With regards to [Senate] members who have issue with him, I would say this,” Morrell added. “We appreciate their steadfast support of the Iraq mission. But you can’t be bullish in support of that mission and not send an ambassador in a timely fashion.”
The pushback from Petraeus must be especially stinging considering the high esteem that senators like Graham and McCain have for the general:
— Asked in August to name “the three wisest people” who he “would rely on heavily in an administration,” McCain replied, “First one, I think, would be General David Petraeus, one of the great military leaders in American history.”
— “Thank God for General Petraeus, one of the great generals in American history,” said McCain in April 2008.
–On Meet The Press in July 2007, Graham spoke of Petraeus as though he “could see past obstacles that blocked ordinary men.” “I will not vote for anything until generous—General Petraeus passes on it,” said Graham.
— “If I could promote you to five stars, I would,” said Graham when Petraeus testified before Congress last April. “I cannot tell you how proud I am of both of you,” he said to Petraeus and Ryan Crocker.
Former McCain aide Michael Goldfarb writes at the Weekly Standard that Petraeus and Odierno’s support for Hill deals “a serious blow to the campaign against his appointment.”