Yesterday, we reported on the planned transfer of National Intelligence Director John Negroponte to the State Department, where he will now serve as Condolezza Rice's deputy.
Mr. Negroponte's move is part of a broader reshuffling of the Bush national security team, in advance of the President's revised strategy on Iraq, which will reportedly be unveiled next week. The reshuffling includes the nomination of a new DNI (retired Navy Vice-Admiral Mike McConnell), the appointment of new flag officers to lead our forces in Iraq, and new nominees as our Ambassadors to the United Nations, as well as Iraq. If I'm reading the tea leaves correctly, these nominations will signal a more aggressive approach to the War in Iraq, including a surge in the number of ground troops.
After news of Negroponte's transfer was leaded to the media, there were subsequent reports that the President (and other senior administration officials) were unhappy with his performance and wanted a change at DNI. There may be some truth in those claims, but I still can't believe a man of Negroponte's stature would meekly accept an apparent demotion, without the promise of something bigger/better down the road. That "something" as we suggested yesterday, may be the inside track to replace Condolezza Rice if she leaves the State Department later this year. Without such a promise, it's likely that Negroponte would have simply retired, rather than accepting the #2 job at Foggy Bottom.
More intriguging is Mr. Bush's apparent choice to succeed General John Abizaid as Commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which controls all of our military forces in the Middle East. Breaking with tradition, President Bush will reportedly named Admiral William Fallon to succeed Abizaid, who plans to retire in March. Fallon is currently commander of U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), where he has won plaudits for his handling of military issues relating to the region's biggest threats--China and North Korea. Admiral Fallon spent most of his career as an aviator and is something of a rarity among the Navy's senior leaders--he is not an Annapolis graduate. Fallon earned his commission through the naval ROTC program at Villanova in 1967.
Until now, leadership at CENTCOM has rotated between Army and Marine Corps generals. The nomination of Admiral Fallon may be another harbinger of the "new" approach in Iraq and the wider War on Terror, using a wider range of military assets to fight insurgents on various fronts. Fallon's appointment also suggests a growing concern with regional issues--namely, Iran's nuclear program--that may ultimately require some sort of U.S. military action. Fallon's nomination comes amid reports that the U.S. Navy is planning to increase its presence in the Persian Gulf region, with the addition of another carrier battle group. Given his experience in managing forces across the Pacific, the White House--and new Defense Secretary Robert Gates --may believe that Fallon is better suited for implementing a strategy, particularly as it relates to the Middle East as a whole.
To replace General George Casey as our senior commander in Iraq, Mr. Bush has tapped the most logical choice: Army Lieutenant General David Petraeus. We've written about General Petraeus on several occasions, most recently when word of Abizaid's retirement was announced last month. We thought--and still believe--that Petraeus would be an excellent choice to lead CENTCOM, but he's still a relatively "junior" three-star, and it would be difficult for him to catapult over more senior officers to get a fourth star and the CINC's job. That will happen, in time--just not right now.
This will be General Petraeus's third tour in Iraq. He led the 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 invasion, and later salvaged failing efforts to train the Iraqi Army. Petraeus is one of the Army's leading experts on counter-insurgency operations, and he reportedly supports a more aggressive approach to the War in Iraq, including an increase in troop strength. In short, he's the right man for the right job at exactly the right time. As for General Casey, there had been talk that he's on the inside track to be the next Army Chief of Staff, but those rumors have quieted in recent weeks. Like Abizaid, he now appears headed for retirement.
On the diplomatic front, our current Ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilazd, is expected to become the next U.N. Ambassador, replacing John Bolton. Ryan Crocker, currently the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, is the likely nominee to succeed Khalilzad in Baghdad. I'll leave commentary and speculation on those appointments to veterans of the foreign service. Obviously, Mr. Khalilzad has some big shoes to fill. John Bolton will be a tough act to follow at the U.N.