WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate’s top Democrat, facing a mini-storm of Republican attacks over his reported criticism of military leaders, said on Thursday he had high regard for the U.S. commander in Iraq but wished Gen. David Petraeus would be “more candid” about the difficulties there.
But Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, commenting on published reports he had criticized Petraeus and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made clear he did not have a good opinion of Pace.
Reid said he had told Pace to his face that “he had not done a very good job in speaking out for some obvious things that weren’t going right in Iraq” during his tenure as the top U.S. military officer.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week he would not recommend Pace’s reappointment as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff because his reconfirmation hearings on Capitol Hill would be too contentious.
The newspaper Politico reported on Thursday Reid called Pace “incompetent.” It said Reid also “made similar disparaging remarks” about Petraeus during an interview on Tuesday with liberal bloggers.
At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow seized on the report, although he noted he did not know if it was true.
“We certainly hope it’s not true, because 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 who is responsible for the bulk of military operations in Iraq,” Snow said.
Reid, when asked about the report, said, “I have high regard for General Petraeus.”
But he added that although the bloodiest three months of the Iraq war had taken place since President George W. Bush began his “surge” policy of adding troops earlier this year, this was not reflected in Petraeus’ assessment of the war.
“I’m waiting to see if General Petraeus can be a little more candid with us,” Reid said. Petraeus’ view of the war, he said, seemed to be different from everyone else’s.
Asked if he thought Petraeus was incompetent, Reid said, “Not as far as I’m concerned,” but he added, “I’m not going to get into what I said or didn’t say.”
Reid, who has riled Republicans in the past for some of his comments including saying the Iraq “war is lost,” told reporters on Thursday he had the best interests of U.S. troops at heart even as he sought to make honest assessments of progress in Iraq.
Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky