WASHINGTON — The Senate handily confirmed Gen. George Casey as the next Army chief of staff Thursday in a roll call vote that some lawmakers used to dramatize their anger over his direction of the war in Iraq.
Casey was confirmed by a bipartisan 83-14 vote. He had been top U.S. commander in Iraq since July 2004, but President Bush replaced him with Army Gen. David Petraeus as part of an overhaul of his Iraq policies and his team of top U.S. officials in the Middle East.
The Senate a day earlier confirmed Navy Adm. William Fallon to replace Army Gen. John Abizaid as head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations throughout the Middle East. It had also approved retired Vice Adm. Mike McConnell to become the nation's second national intelligence director.
Next on track for approval is John Negroponte, who stepped down as intelligence director to become the No. 2 official at the State Department. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved his nomination by voice vote Thursday.
"America will benefit," Bush said in a statement applauding the confirmations of all three men. "I look forward to working with each of these strong leaders."
Their approval comes as Democrats launch a full-court press against Bush's decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq. House Democratic leaders are planning a vote next week on a resolution stating opposition to the buildup, while some senators are considering bogging down upcoming budget bills with anti-war measures.
Despite their opposition to Bush's war strategies, Democrats defended Casey while Republicans who support Bush's policies assailed the general, accusing him of mismanaging the conflict.
Voting for Casey's confirmation were 44 Democrats, 37 Republicans and two independents. Ten Republicans and four Democrats voted "no."
"Gen. Casey knows Iraq and the challenges the Army faces there," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said this week, adding, "The principal failures that led to the chaos in Iraq were due to the civilian leaders."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Casey should be held accountable for giving Congress rosy assessments of the war as the violence got worse.
"I have questioned in the past and question today a number of decisions and judgments that Gen. Casey has made in the past two and a half years," said McCain. "During that time, conditions in Iraq have gotten remarkably and progressively worse."
Testifying this month before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Casey said he had asked for three fewer ground combat units than Bush is sending to Iraq. Bush announced Jan. 10 he would send five brigades to Iraq, whereas Casey had requested only two.
Casey said he does not oppose the deployment of the additional brigades because it would give U.S. commanders in Iraq flexibility.
Casey will replace Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who is retiring.