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April 07, 2008

Answer the Question
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

There has been some debate on whether it is appropriate to ask General Petraeus whether Iraq has made America safer, or whether it's not his job to answer that question.  I think this has to be the central question and he has to answer it.  When Senator Warner asked General Petraeus this question last fall he responded:

Sir I don't know actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind what i have focued on and what I have been riveted on is how to accomplish the mission of the multinational force Iraq.

You may argue that this question goes beyond Petraeus's purview.  His job is to take care of Iraq and the question is better posed to the Secretary of Defense or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  But that would assume that Petraeus was just an ordinary General and that the chain of command was being strictly followed by his superiors.  But President Bush has completely undermined the chain of command, ignoring the Joint Chiefs and the CENTCOM commander and going straight to Petraeus.

In the waning months of his administration, Bush has hitched his fortunes to those of his bookish four-star general, bypassing several levels of the military chain of command to give Petraeus a privileged voice in White House deliberations over Iraq, according to current and former administration officials and retired officers. In so doing, Bush's working relationship with his field commander has taken on an intensity that is rare in the history of the nation's wartime presidents.

By bypassing the chain of command and going straight to Petraeus President Bush has made broad regional strategy part of Petraeus's portfolio, and Congress and the American people have a right to know what Petraeus's thoughts are on the central strategic question.   If he again professes that this beyond his purview I'd suggest Congress ask this question as a follow up:

In your conversations with President Bush has he ever asked for your advice regarding the broader strategic questions surrounding Iraq (The strain on our military, attention away from Afghanistan, empowering Iran, etc...)? If so, what advice did you give him? 


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I'm sure that, as we speak, there is a Pentagon room-full of Brigadier Generals drafting appropriate answers to the very questions that you are posing. A question may have gone un-answered once, but it won't happen again. It's the seven P's of the military -- proper prior preparation prevents piss-poor performance.

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