Commentary Magazine


Petraeus to NATO? A Bad Idea.

Would it have made sense to replace Eisenhower in early 1945 or Grant in early 1865? Only someone who thinks the answer to those questions is “yes” would be in favor of replacing David Petraeus as the senior commander in Iraq anytime soon. Yet, according to this New York Times article, there is serious consideration being given to sending him to NATO as Supreme Allied Commander later this year

I just got back from eleven days in Iraq and was greatly impressed by the turnaround wrought by U.S. forces in the past year. Streets that were once war zones are seeing a semblance of normality returning, yet much work remains to be done. The accomplishments of the past year are due of course to much hard work by American and Iraqi forces, but ordinary troops have been fighting hard for years without making much progress because they lacked good direction at the top.

In the past year we have finally found a winning team to direct the war effort: Petraeus as head of Multi-National Forces-Iraq, responsible for setting the strategic direction, and Lieutenant General Ray Odierno as head of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, the headquarters responsible for the day to day fight. Odierno is about to leave Iraq along with his entire headquarters staff. That rotation puts in peril some of the recent progress. Moving out Petraeus not long after Odierno leaves would constitute an unacceptable risk.

That doesn’t mean that Petraeus needs to stay in Iraq forever. He’s already logged plenty of time in the war zone, and it would be understandable if he tires of the crushing burden of command. But it would be a waste of the insights that he has accumulated to send him to NATO, where he would be out of the Iraq fight. It would make more sense to send Petraeus to Central Command, replacing the unimpressive Admiral Fox Fallon, and thereby allowing Petraeus to stay involved in the command loop not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan as well. As for his replacement in Iraq, who better than Odierno, after he has a chance to rest and recharge his batteries stateside? That would keep the winning team together.