Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Collision Course

Perhaps this was inevitable. Gareth Porter of the Inter Press Service is reporting that President Obama and his CENTCOM Commander, General David Petraeus, are on a collision course over Iraq. Mr. Porter's recent scoop was reprinted by the World Tribune:

CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates,
tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months at an Oval Office meeting Jan. 21.

But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn't convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.

Obama's decision to override Petraeus's recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.

A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama's decision.

Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, "Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama."

You can almost hear the White House source chuckle in recounting their version of events. It sounds vaguely reminiscent of Mr. Obama's "I won" comment, during a meeting with Congressional Republicans last week. To the victor goes the spoils; as the new decider-in-chief, President Obama gets to chart our policy in Iraq (and other global hotspots).

But dismissing the advice of senior generals is usually a bad idea, as Mr. Obama will eventually discover. While some dispute his version of events, if Gareth Porter is correct, then President Obama is facing a posssible revolt among his senior military advisers. Mobilizing public support through the media is not something that flag officers particularly enjoy, given their inherent distrust of the press. Their willingness to consider that option suggests a growing rift between the Commander-in-Chief and his senior military advisers.

More disturbingly, Mr. Obama's preferred withdrawal plan flies in the face of current realities in the Middle East. As Bret Stephens notes in today's WSJ, Iraq is becoming a U.S. bulwark in the Middle East. The gains achieved by the troop surge are holding, and Iraqi forces are assuming a lead role in securing the country. Last weekend's election was a stunning success, and a model for the Arab word.

Still, the situation in Iraq is not irreversible, one reason that Mr. Gates, General Petraeus and General Odierno favor an extended American draw down. Mr. Stephens observes that not all American "pillars" in the Middle East have met the test of time. In some cases, the bulwark of yesteryear (think Iran) is today's despotic regime that now threatens regional security. Other long-standing American allies, including Pakistan and Turkey) face an uncertain future, at best.

In other words, the U.S. needs all the stable, friendly regimes it can find in the Middle East. But Mr. Obama seems more intent on placating his supporters on the liberal fringe, who've been clamoring for an American pullout since 2003. The President seems willing to risk progress paid for in blood and treasure to full fill a campaign promise--with less regard for what happens after we leave.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Just days into his presidency, Mr. Obama signed an executive order to shut down the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay by next year. Where those suspects will be incarcerated (or face justice) has not been determined. Maybe the administration should change its mantra from "Change We Can Believe In," to "Don't Sweat the Details."

***
ADDENDUM: We should also note that the Obama-Petraeus collision has a political component. General Petraeus's successful strategy in Iraq caused a fair amount of consternation for Obama and his fellow Democrats. Kicking and screaming, they had to finally admit that the troop surge worked, and was eminently preferable to their "cut and run" approach. With the Democrats now in the White House, they can finally tell General Petraeus to "shut up and color," exacting a measure of revenge for upsetting their original Iraq "strategy."

The friction in the Oval Office is also a prelude to 2012. In some GOP circles, Petraeus is already being mentioned as a potential Senate or Vice-Presidential candidate in four years. By forcing a showdown over Iraq, Obama can tarnish the general's reputation, force him to resign, or even engineer a dismissal. Any of those scenarios would damage the general politically, a calculation that isn't lost on the White House.

You read it here first: The brilliant military career of General David Petraeus will end at CENTCOM.

11 comments:

kitanis said...

Not surprised.

But you know.. Obama did tell a lie on the campaign trail (Among others). There is a Mp3 file going around where he was speaking in Chicago.. Saying that the first thing he was going to do as president is have a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and order them to impliment a immediate pull out of Iraq.

The Meeting never took place on that day or several days after. But its all moot point.

lgude said...

Well, that is why I voted for McCain...just to prevent throwing Iraq away. I thought keeping Gates pretty well signaled that Obama wasn't going to do that, but now I'm not so sure. It could be he is showing who is boss and that a change has taken place, and pacifying the left, but there is no advantage in Afghanistan and Pakistan or in dealing with Iran if we go wobbly on Iraq. Quite the reverse. I might as well say it now - if Obama blows Iraq and Petraeus feels forced to resign I want to see Petraeus as the candidate for president, not vp, in 2012.

Mrs. Davis said...

I fail to see how a Petraeus resignation would necessarily hurt him, particularly if Odierno and others go with him. The political effect would all be a result of how it was handled.

McMasters helped Petraeus with the surge. Perhaps it is time he re-read Dereliction of Duty.

davod said...

Another military matter:

Informality Excess: Obama Replacing 'Hail to the Chief' With Sting's 'Desert Rose'?

"Yes, it's pomp and circumstance, but it is the office of the President. It's our great traditions.

I think it's deliberate. It's certainly no accident that he would replace it with a Sting song sing by Arabic singer Cheb Mami.

Veteran CBS Radio White House correspondent Mark Knoller reports that President Obama is relaxing more than the dress code at the presidential mansion. Pomp is giving way to piano-bar pop:

On Day One of his presidency, everywhere Mr. Obama went they played "Hail to the Chief" for him – but not since. In fact the U.S. Marine Band's duties at the White House over the last 10 days appear to have been dramatically downsized.

Instead of the usual contingent of trumpets, tubas and drums, a single piano player now provides musical interludes before and after the president's appearance.

And the tunes have little connection to the military marching music of John Phillips Souza [sic] that is the usual accompaniment to presidential appearances. These days the pianist's repertoire includes Cole Porter's "Night and Day" and Sting’s "Desert Rose."

"He's not a 'Pomp and Circumstance' kind of guy," says press secretary Robert Gibbs of the new president.

To many Americans, this excessive informality suggests a real distaste for "official" or "patriotic" music, not to mention the Marine band that plays it."

davod said...

US Generals In Revolt On Iraq

"CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months at an Oval Office meeting Jan. 21.

But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn't convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.

Obama's decision to override Petraeus's recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.

A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama's decision.

Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, "Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama."

Hwy36Neighbor said...

Consider the source. Gareth Porter is an extreme liberal. This report is relying exclusively on anonymous sources.

Porter challenged the main rationale offered by U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1969 for continuing the Vietnam War, and argued that there would not be a communist "bloodbath" in South Vietnam after the U.S. withdrew its forces from Vietnam. Oops.

Porter wrote a book, Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution, attacking the "myth" that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were engaged in mass murder (he claimed that only hundreds died).

If any of this report is true, Petraeus will have to be neutralized in the public's mind before Obama could take any action to remove him. Let's wait and see if Petraeus is attacked in the press through leaks.

davod said...

Hwy36Neighbor Thanks for the information about Porter.

Gayle Miller said...

I'd need to know when this confab took place. If it was last week, then perhaps intervening events have given President O. a reason to reconsider. Does our President need to be REMINDED of the reception General Petraeus received at the Super Bowl?

Does this immature popinjay currently occupying (but not gracing) the Oval Office need to be reminded that he is an ignoramous when it comes to the military?

Memo to BHO - you make your high flown little speeches boyo and let the ADULTS deal with matters of national security.

Duane said...

Palin/Patraeus 2012

JoeC said...

D*mn. Duane beat me to it....

Dymphna said...

Duane and Joe C--

From y'alls' keyboards to God's eyes.

What a one-two punch that would be. Especially after all the states are in revolt over the 10th amendment...how many is it now? Six? Seven?

There will be some interesting times just around the corner...