John McCain would like us to believe that he was some kind of uber-prescient early critic of the Bush administration’s tactics in Iraq but it’s just not so. Barack Obama warned before the war that disaster was likely, McCain cheerleaded for war. Then when the war appeared to be going well, McCain thought Bush and Rumsfeld were fantastic. Then when the war very clearly wasn’t going well, McCain started opportunistically turning on them. That’s nice, I suppose, but it’s still a record of badly flawed judgment.
Justin Logan tries to draw our attention to data indicating that anti-American sentiment is driven by specific American policies, but as I’ve said before we’ve spent years ignoring actual data about foreign public opinion and I don’t see why we should stop now. They hate us because they hate freedom!
It’s a pretty logical promotion and also, in my view, a pretty savvy political move. In this new office, Petraeus will have the appropriate kind of standing to argue that, no, those who say we ought to shift resources out of Iraq and toward Pakistan/Afghanistan are wrong. Of course just because he says they’re wrong (if that is, as I suspect, what he’ll say) doesn’t make him right. But he’s been an effective spokesperson for the administration, so it makes sense to move him to a more big picture strategic job.
Our guest blogger is Peter Juul, a national security consultant at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has been promoted by the Bush administration to take charge of Central Command, or CENTCOM. For those unfamiliar with the military lexicon, CENTCOM is a geographical command that encompasses the greater Middle East from Egypt in the west to Pakistan in the east and the Horn of Africa in the south to Kazakhstan in the north.
Petraeus replaces Admiral William Fallon, who resigned in March over disagreements with the administration’s regional strategy. During his tenure as CENTCOM commander, Fallon argued for greater attention to the mission in Afghanistan, increased diplomacy with Iran, and a faster drawdown in Iraq. This last view put Fallon into conflict with both Petraeus and the White House, who both saw Iraq as the top priority. As a result, Petraeus had the ear of the White House and Fallon was marginalized in the eyes of observers.
Petraeus’ appointment as CENTCOM commander seemingly confirms the suspicion that Fallon’s resignation was due to his disagreements with the overly Iraq-centric administration regional strategy. Now, the argument goes, the White House has a commander more in tune with its own strategic priorities.
While this view may be valid, it is entirely possible Petraeus may shift his views upon taking responsibility for the entire region. During previous testimony before Congress, he has dodged questions of regional strategy by reminding congressional inquisitors that his responsibility was Iraq, not the region. But as the old bureaucratic politics chestnut goes, “where you stand depends on where you sit,” and Petraeus’ new chair may give him a new perspective.
The big question of this appointment, therefore, is whether Petraeus’ views will change as a result of wider responsibilities. It is imperative that Congress ask the broader regional strategic questions of Petraeus in confirmation hearings to get answers on this score. Petraeus cannot now avoid these questions given his additional duties as CENTCOM commander.
In the event Petraeus modifies his views on the strategic equation, will the White House listen? Or will he be marginalized like Admiral Fallon? Given the close relationship between Washington and Petraeus, this turn of events seems unlikely. But recent history should give Congress reason to engage in deep and incisive questioning at confirmation hearings.
Yesterday I speculated that Michael O’Hanlon was trying to wheedle his way into John McCain’s good graces because he’s burned his bridges with leading Democrats. That still might be true as far as the Presidential candidates go — he’s criticized Clinton and Obama by name, repeatedly, and Obama especially harshly — but since writing that I’ve got some second-hand reports that he’s still briefing congressional Democrats and the like. If that’s true, I really do wish people would look elsewhere for their expert advice.