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Gen. David Petraeus nod reopens issue of withdrawal deadline

Gen. David Petraeus is likely to win Senate confirmation as the top US commander in Afghanistan. But the hearing could reopen a debate on strategy, especially the 2011 planned troop drawdown.

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“There's a risk to the White House in these confirmation hearings,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University. “From Day 1, hearings like this have the potential to open questions ranging from what the exit strategy is to what the military strategy is. These are all open questions that the White House does not want to confront or bring to the national spotlight.”

Such rifts run through the White House – Vice President Biden and supporters were cool to President Obama’s surge – and within Democratic ranks.

“The massive, open-ended military operation in Afghanistan will cost a hundred billion dollars this year with no end in sight. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continues to operate and recruit around the world,” said Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin, in a statement on Wednesday. “After nine years, it is time to give the American people, as well as the people of Afghanistan, a timetable to end this war so our nation is better able to focus on the global threat posed by al Qaeda and its affiliates.”

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Last month, Senator Feingold picked up 18 votes on a measure to mandate a nonbinding timetable to end US deployment in Afghanistan, including three of the top four Senate Democratic leaders – Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois, Charles Schumer of New York, and Patty Murray of Washington.

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