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April 23, 2008

Petraeus to CENTCOM
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Breaking news is that General Petraeus has been tapped to be the next commander of CENTCOM, which leads to a number of quick questions / observations.

First, it'll be interesting to see how he handles the tension of Afghanistan and Iraq from that position since Gates, Mullen and Fallon have all made clear that Iraq is hurting our mission in Afghanistan.  Somehow I have a feeling that he will advise that we continue to place all of our strategic eggs in the Iraq basket. 

Second, the confirmation hearings should give Democrats an opportunity to finally get Petraeus to answer some central questions.  Is the mission in Iraq hurting Afghanistan and Pakistan?  What is the central front in the fight against Al Qaeda?  What about our overstretched forces?  Is Iraq making America safer?  Petraeus was able to dodge (Somewhat legitimately) on a number of these questions in the past by arguing that this wasn't his job.  Well, now it is.  So he really needs to answer.

Third, there was speculation that Petraeus was going to move off to SACEUR right around January.  This guarantees that if there is a Democratic administration, Petraeus may end up playing a central role in helping design an exit strategy.  Of course, in testimony last month he brought into question whether he'd actually be willing to do that.  Which is huge, and must be asked again during the hearings.

Finally, there is the question of how many quotes Mike O'Hanlon will get today in the media.  Because naturally, that's the only military expert worth talking to.  I'm hoping we see some comments from Andrew Bacevich, Larry Korb, Tammy Schultz, Michele Flournoy or Tony Cordesman and a slew of retired generals (Who aren't part of the Pentagon media strategy).  But I doubt we'll see that.

Update:  Also worth thinking about the fact that General Odierno , Petraeus's number two in Iraq for the last year, is moving over to Army Vice Chief of Staff and replacing General Cody.  General Cody was one of the most outspoken critics of the current state of the Army.  So the Pentagon has now replaced two of the biggest critics (Fallon and Cody) on two of the biggest issues (Afghanistan and military readiness).  And their place, we will have Petraeus and Odierno.  Wow.  OK.  Scratch that.  Odierno's nomination for Vice Chief of Staff of the Army is being pulled and he is going back to Baghdad to take Petraeus's spot as head of MNF-I.

Update: Cernig points out that this also opens up some questions about Iran.

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Comments

The first question that comes to my mind, given that Petraeus appears to be something of an Iran hawk, is what this means for US Iran policy.

Of course, there's a certain element of Petraeus not necessarily being the best name for the job, but rather keeping him in the Iraq spotlight.

IIan, do me a favor. When Petraeus as CentCom turns up for the next set of hearings on Iraq, along with Odierno and whoever will be ambassador then, remind me that the Bush administration wouldn't let Fallon testify at such briefings - even after Congressmen requested it - because he wasn't the commander on the ground and therefore had limited relevance.

Regards, C

Petraeus is an "Iran hawk" because he is a political general and he sees the wind blowing that way. It's a strong wind, too, if you consider all the blow-hards in the 110th US Congress including especially the top three presidential contenders.

As for putting Petraeus on the spot regarding where the US should put its armies and how America can be Most Safe -- is this the level we have sunk to as a nation? Asking important questions to this guy?
--I will remind that General Petraeus is the guy who wrote a WaPo Op-Ed just prior to the last presidential election extolling the wonderful Iraqi army that he was training, turning out combat-ready battalions by the dozens.
--I will remind that General Petaeus has taken credit for publishing an army field manual that was largely plagiarized.
--I will remind that General Petraeus has introduced two new features to foreign military occupation: buying off the enemy and ethnic cleansing of the capital city.
--I will remind that Petraeus, the author of the "surge," previously said that Iraq was an Iraqi project. Jan. 2005 comment where he let slip that: “Iraqis must provide for their own security. The coalition cannot impose a peace on Iraq, nor can force make democracy flourish”
http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=3158
--I remind that Petraeus has given other rosy predictions in the past. Aug 2, 2005: "Given continued progress and acceptable conditions, Petraeus said, the United States may be able to reduce troop presence in the country next year, noting this depends on political progress as well as progress in the security capabilities of Iraqi forces. . ."
http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=18152
--and more on Oct 5, 2005: “There are now over 197,000 trained and equipped Iraqi security forces, and that should be close to 200,000 by the time of the referendum,”
http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=18157
---Then there was the $1.2 billion that was embezzled from the Security Transition Command during Petraeus's tenure, which probably contributed to the shortage of boots and uniforms, not to mention weapons, in the Iraqi Army.

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