General David Petraeus testifies before Senate Foreign Relations Committee

By Mick Rosenthal, Washington correspondent, The Nation April 2 2008

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed six bills last night, the League of Democracies bill introduced by Senator Barack Obama passed 14 to 3, but the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had a star witness, General David Petraeus, commander multinational forces Iraq testified before the passage of the HEROES Act. General Petraeus had a hard job commanding soldiers in Iraq and the HEROES Act will not only honor him, but also the soldiers serving in Iraq.

During his testimony, General Petraeus faced hard questioning, especially by Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a senator who voted for the authorization for the president to go to war, but then greatly opposed it. Senator Hagel asked General Petraeus if the next time the United States goes to war should Congress do its job and investigate and the general replied in the affirmative. There was also questioning regarding the contractors serving in Iraq, Senator Biden asked why the United States does not use its own soldiers and Senator Hagel asked about the legal standards the contractors are subject to. General Petraeus said contractors are not subject to Iraqi law, but are subject to American civilian courts and the American code of military justice. General Petraeus also discussed how the security in Iraq has gotten better, the Iraqi government has taken bold steps about the security of their country and although he said, “nature of combat can be very stressful” he praised the soldiers and said they have done more than asked. He asked that the HEROES Act get passed to help American soldiers and their families.

Much of the funding in the HEROES Act goes to supporting of mental health and counseling. With 140,000 American soldiers serving in Iraq, which was also discussed General Petraeus believes they need help when they come home, he said PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) is a huge problem. Senator Barbra Boxer (D-CA) agreed saying of General Petraeus’s testimony afterward “I think the general has great faith in his troops. I agree with his sentiment that we need to take care of the troops fighting for us, that said I would like to see more funding go to the establishment of mental health services and other services”. When will the troops come home? Many asked, General Petraeus said that American troops will come home once Iraq becomes politically stable, an unstable Iraq is unacceptable according to General Petraeus and so American soldiers must remain in Iraq to keep the gulf stable.

Many other senators had a lot to say about General Petraeus’s testimony and the HEROES Act. Senator John McCain from Arizona, the Republican nominee for the 2008 presidential race and a proponent of the war said of the general’s testimony, “I think General David Petraeus has done outstanding service to the country, a premier general in the service of the nation today and the HEROES Act a landmark piece of legislation”. Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut said right after the testimony, “Not everyone on Foreign Relations is as optimistic as General Petraeus, but we support him and the troops one hundred percent”. Senator Hagel said of his support for the HEROES Act, “I supported the HEROES Act because it provides critical funds for medical programs, mental health, prosthetic limbs, but I oppose the war in Iraq now although I voted for it because the resolution authorized force as a last resort. Diplomatic avenues were supposed to be exhausted first, but that clearly was not the case. We rushed into war unprepared without a exit strategy and poor intelligence. The surge is not working, we’ve lost thousands of lives, trillions of dollars and international prestige.”

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Majority Leader had the last word on the general’s testimony, “I thought he was well prepared and spoke well. He made some good arguments for the increased funding on mental health and I am very glad we passed the HEROES Act unanimously and hope the Senate does the same”. The HEROES Act passed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 20 to 0 with one abstention.