Last September, when Gen. David Petraeus was asked whether his strategy in Iraq was making America safer, he responded, “I don’t know, actually,” adding that he was solely focused on “how to accomplish the mission in Iraq.” Petraeus had a point. It’s not his job to render judgments on the larger strategic implications of operations for which he is responsible. That is why it is common for ground commanders to testify alongside regional commanders, who often are able to better address such issues. (For example, when former Iraq commander Gen. George Casey testified before Congress, he often did so alongside his boss Gen. John Abizaid.)
Petraeus, however, was permitted by Congress to testify alone. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) said at the time that “it was a very narrow and focused two days of hearings” and that the views of other senior officers were needed “to get a sense of how the region is in play.”
In an op-ed in this morning’s Los Angeles Times, the Center for American Progress’s Lawrence Korb and Sean Duggan question whether Congress has learned its lesson. Looking forward to Petraeus’s testimony before Congress next month, they warn that “if Petraeus is again allowed to testify without his superior officers, as he did last September, neither Congress nor the American people will be receiving the complete picture.” They write:
Other military leaders who are looking at the larger national security picture need to be consulted. They know well how maintaining an average of 130,000 troops in Iraq over the last five years has not only decimated our ground forces, it also has compromised our security interests around the globe.
“The Army is out of balance,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. told the House Armed Services Committee last fall. That’s a polite way of saying it’s broken.[...]
In January, [chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Michael G.] Mullen told the Marine Corps Times that there was reserve capacity in the Navy and Air Force but that ground troops were a different story. “Clearly, if we had to do something with our ground forces, a significant substitute would be a big challenge,” he said. Mullen’s predecessor, Army Marine Gen. Peter Pace, also has expressed his discomfort with our ability to respond to other crises. Before leaving his post last October, Pace, stated that the troop commitment to Iraq would “make a large difference in our ability to be prepared for unforeseen contingencies” in the region and elsewhere.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said, “I’ve asked Gen. Petraeus to make his evaluation… completely based on what’s going on in Iraq. He doesn’t need to look over his shoulder, think about stress on the force or anything else.”
Allowing Petraeus to focus solely on the mission in Iraq intentionally ignores the ways in which the continued war in Iraq has made America less safe by continuing to destabilize the region. It also ignores the expertise and wisdom of other senior officers, many of whom hold views out of line with the Bush administration’s preferred “success of the surge” narrative — views that have no doubt been chilled by the ousting of Admiral Fallon.