The Bush administration has had more than its share of disastrous personnel moves. You might call it “Brownie Syndrome,” after Michael Brown, the FEMA chief who had to resign after Hurricane Katrina. A number of these missteps–the short-lived appointment of Admiral Fox Fallon to head Central Command and the long-lived appointment of Donald Rumsfeld to head the Department of Defense–have concerned the armed forces. So it was with some surprise (and a big gulp of relief) that I read the news that General David Petraeus is being sent to Central Command and General Ray Odierno is heading to Baghdad as his replacement at the head of Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNFI).
Odierno spent the year from early 2007 to early 2008 working closely with Petraeus to supervise the implementation of the surge. They were by far the most successful team of commanders we have had in Iraq–potentially the Grant/Sherman or Eisenhower/Patton of this long conflict. Yet there was a strong impetus back in DC to break up the winning combination–as seen in Odierno’s rotation home earlier this year and in persistent rumors that Petraeus would be sent to NATO. That is something I warned against in a January post, in which I suggested that a better move would be to send Petraeus to Centcom and Odierno to MNFI. But, based on his track record, I knew I could not necessarily count on the President doing the right thing. Now he has. That gives us a chance to build on the initial success of the surge in the challenging months that lie ahead.
Of course, whether or not Petraeus and Odierno will have a free hand to implement their best military advice will depend on the outcome of the November election. The Democratic candidates seem determined to pull troops out of the country based more on domestic political considerations than on the long-term prospects of success in the war effort.