Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Today's Reading Assignment

A sobering op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal by Mackubin Owens, a professor at the Naval War College. He raises a disturbing possibility, suggested by Bob Woodward's recent book on the Iraqi troop surge and the decision-making that accompanied it.

Professor Owens states the issue bluntly: "Our Generals Almost Cost Us Iraq." He describes senior military leaders who actively lobbied against the surge concept and its implementation:

Although the conventional narrative about the Iraq war is wrong, its persistence has contributed to the most serious crisis in civil-military relations since the Civil War. According to Mr. Woodward's account, the uniformed military not only opposed the surge, insisting that their advice be followed; it then subsequently worked to undermine the president once he decided on another strategy.

In one respect, the actions taken by military opponents of the surge, e.g. "foot-dragging," "slow-rolling" and selective leaking are, unfortunately, all-too-characteristic of U.S. civil-military relations during the last decade and a half. But the picture Mr. Woodward draws is far more troubling. Even after the policy had been laid down, the bulk of the senior U.S. military leadership -- the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, the rest of the Joint Chiefs, and Gen. Abizaid's successor, Adm. William Fallon, actively worked against the implementation of the president's policy.

Owens also observes that military leaders played a role in creating the mess that existed before the surge. As the insurgency grew, then-JCS Chairman General Richard Myers and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, stuck with the strategy of "standing up" Iraqi security forces, so the U.S. could stand down. That policy was supported by General Abizaid and General George Casey, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, among others.

We know what happened. The surge worked, and Myers, Rumsfeld, Abizaid, and Fallon are all retired. But that begs an obvious question: if Woodward and Professor Owens are correct, why are General Casey and Admiral Mullen still serving?


Mrs. Davis said...

why are General Casey and Admiral Mullen still serving?

For the same reason Souter and Stevens are on the Supreme Court; Bush couldn't get competent replacements confirmed by the Senate at this point in his administration. The interesting thing will be to see where Petreus' career goes.

Bob Hawkins said...

All this assumes we can believe Bob "The Angel of Death" Woodward. (From his habit of interviewing people who die before publication and therefore can't deny they ever talked to him -- although their families often do.)

Another Woodward habit is to put all the blame on people who wouldn't talk to him and haven't died, while covering for his sources. So all this tells me is that those Generals and Admirals didn't talk to The Angel of Death.

Unknown said...

Mrs Davis--I think Petraeus's remaining career follows one of two tracks.

If McCain is elected, the sky's the limit. Petraeus has the inside track for literally any job he wants, including Army Chief of Staff, or Chairman of the JCS. Of those posts, I think Petraeus would prefer Army CofS, because it would allow him to institutionalize many of the strategies and reforms he implemented in Iraq. It would also allow him to facilitate the continued promotion of officers who served under him in Iraq, and helped produce the success of the surge.

Under an Obama administration, Petraeus's ascent stops at CENTCOM. The General is a hated man in Democratic circles; not only did he turn Iraq around, he took the issue off the table for the '08 election, and made Democratic senators look foolish during his Congressional testimony. The last thing Obama wants is a Army CofS or JSC Chair that reinforces his own inexperience in security matters, and military issues.

Assuming that Obama is elected, Petraeus will punch out of CENTCOM in 2010-2011. He'll get a tremendous book contract and will pen his memoirs while giving speeches for $20-50K a pop.

Meanwhile, a lot of folks in the GOP will be pressuring him to enter politics. He would be a logical replacement for Mitch McConnell or Jim Bunning in Kentucky (Petraeus served multiple tours at Ft. Campbell). There's also been some talk of him entering the fray in New Jersey, where he earned his PhD at Princeton. But, with his reputation/track record, Petraeus could easily launch a presidential bid, and attract considerable support.