US General David Petraeus, currently commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was confirmed in a Senate vote on Thursday to succeed Leon E. Panetta as Director of Central Intelligence.
The vote was 94-0, making General Petraeus the second senior nominee for President Barack Obama’s national security team to win Senate confirmation unopposed this month. The other was Mr. Panetta, who is leaving the CIA director’s job to become Secretary of Defense.
General Petraeus is expected to complete his command in Kabul in July, then hang up his military uniform and start his new civilian job at the CIA in September. Until then, the CIA’s deputy director Michael Morell will serve as acting director of the intelligence agency.
The ballot amounted to a strong show of confidence in President Barack Obama’s reshuffling of his national security team, even though General Petraeus himself expressed misgivings last week about a coming troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The general told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he disagreed with President Obama’s decision and had favored a more modest timeline for the drawdown—but told lawmakers it was his duty to carry out his commander-in-chief’s strategy.
Asked by Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan if he was prepared to resign over war policy, General Petraeus said: “I don’t think it’s the place for the commander to consider that kind of step unless you are in a very, very dire situation.”
“I feel actually quite strongly about this. Our troopers don’t get to quit. And I don’t think commanders should contemplate that as any kind of idle action,” the four-star general said, his voice rising.
General Petraeus, hailed for his role in the Iraq war, faces daunting challenges at the CIA: providing accurate intelligence on trends in Afghanistan; tracking and neutralizing militants on multiple continents; and tracking issues as diverse as climate change and the political effects of global economic upheaval.
Before the vote, the 58-year-old General Petraeus was lauded as “among the finest military officers and strategic thinkers of his generation,” as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, put it.
He is credited with salvaging the US effort in Iraq, where he led the 2007 surge of US forces, and improving the security situation in Afghanistan during the US military surge there in the past year. Throughout his career of 37 years in the military, he also has earned a reputation for brains and political savvy.
General Petraeus was confirmed as CIA director one year to the day after he was confirmed by the Senate to become the commander of the troubled war in Afghanistan. Moving to Kabul last year required him to take a demotion from being head of U.S. Central Command overseeing a region including Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen, a job he had held since 2008.
(Mustapha Ajbaili, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at Mustapha.firstname.lastname@example.org)