Gen. David Petraeus sailed through the Senate on Thursday in a 94-0 vote to serve as the next Central Intelligence Agency director.
The vote reveals the deep congressional support Petraeus enjoys on both sides of the aisle. Petraeus, a West Point graduate, is widely known for leading the troop surge in Iraq ordered by President George W. Bush and for overseeing the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
A handful of senators took to the floor before the afternoon vote to praise Petraeus.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, said she was confident the military veteran could take on a civilian role after nearly 40 years in uniform.
“He has clearly considered the differences in culture and mission between the CIA and the military,” she said.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Petraeus had shown “incredible leadership” in directing the military strategy in Iraq.
“I don’t believe that in my life, which has been blessed to know many outstanding military leaders of all branches of service, that I have ever quite encountered a military leader – or a civilian leader, for that matter – with the combination of charisma and intellect that Gen. Petraeus possesses,” McCain said on the floor shortly before the vote, noting that he rarely speaks about nominees but that Petraeus’s nomination to the CIA was an extraordinary circumstance.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who McCain noted has served under Petraeus as a JAG officer, said the commander’s tactics and strategy in both Afghanistan and Iraq will be a model for future generations.
“To the president: You have chosen wisely,” he said. Petraeus, he added, “will have the chance to take the fight to the enemy in a different way.”
Petraeus’s easy confirmation was expected. The Senate intelligence committee unanimously approved his confirmation earlier this week.
The 58-year-old takes over for Leon Panetta, who’ll replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Gates’s last day is Thursday. Panetta himself sailed through his confirmation with a 100-0 Senate vote. Petraeus is scheduled to begin at the CIA in September. Until then, Deputy Director Michael Morell will serve as interim chief.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said there were no better candidates to lead the country’s national security strategy than Panetta and Petraeus. The killing of Osama bin Laden shows the need for a tight relationship between the Pentagon and the CIA, he added.
“What is happening today is illustrated by the modus operandi of the takedown of bin Laden,” Nelson said. “It is a marriage between the intelligence community and the military community.”
Petraeus came into the Afghanistan job in 2010 with another unanimous Senate vote after Gen. Stanley McChrystal was ousted from the position following his controversial remarks to Rolling Stone magazine.
As Petraeus’s tenure in Afghanistan wound down, he faced an internal debate within the administration on the size of the troop pullout slated to begin in July. At his confirmation hearing last week, Petraeus told senators that he had initially recommended putting off troop withdrawal until next summer, and then withdrawing the 33,000-troop surge ordered by President Barack Obama.
But, he said, he backs Obama’s final decision, announced last week, to bring home 10,000 troops by the end of 2011 and then the rest of the surge force by next summer.
“We’re talking about small differences here,” Petraeus told the Senate intelligence committee.
Petraeus’s name has often been floated as a potential presidential candidate – even as recently as this month, while his CIA nomination was pending. Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole said the country is “due for another [Dwight] Eisenhower.”