Commentary Magazine


Topic: CENTCOM

Hawkish General Being Pushed Out Early?

Jim Mattis, current commander of Central Command, is one of the most revered generals in the recent history of the Marine Corps. He has been nicknamed affectionately “Mad Dog” and the “Warrior Monk,” and he has acquired a considerable and well-earned reputation for battlefield excellence and general strategic acumen over the course of the last decade in Afghanistan and Iraq and now at Centcom. The San Diego Union Tribune has a great profile of him.

Yet, although only 62 years old, his military career may well end in the next few months, because he is slated to leave Centcom. Veteran military correspondent Tom Ricks reports here and here that Mattis may be getting pushed out a bit early because the White House does not appreciate his blunt advice and thinks he is too hawkish on Iran.

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Jim Mattis, current commander of Central Command, is one of the most revered generals in the recent history of the Marine Corps. He has been nicknamed affectionately “Mad Dog” and the “Warrior Monk,” and he has acquired a considerable and well-earned reputation for battlefield excellence and general strategic acumen over the course of the last decade in Afghanistan and Iraq and now at Centcom. The San Diego Union Tribune has a great profile of him.

Yet, although only 62 years old, his military career may well end in the next few months, because he is slated to leave Centcom. Veteran military correspondent Tom Ricks reports here and here that Mattis may be getting pushed out a bit early because the White House does not appreciate his blunt advice and thinks he is too hawkish on Iran.

I don’t know the truth of the matter, but if Ricks’ reporting is accurate, it does not reflect well on the administration. It would be a shame to lose such a fearless, experienced, and brilliant general who can provide unvarnished advice to an administration whose senior ranks increasingly appear to be stocked with the president’s cronies and loyalists rather than the “team of rivals” Obama was thought by some to try to cultivate in the first term.

Of course Mattis has been at Centcom for a considerable period of time–since 2007, making him the second-longest-service Combatant Command chief–and it is unrealistic to expect that he would stay in the job indefinitely. But it would make sense to find some other employment for him, whether in another prominent command or in an educational capacity helping to groom the next generation of soldiers and marines. Certainly it would be a real loss if he were to retire to farming in Washington State, as he is rumored to be contemplating. America already owes a considerable debt to Mattis, but he is young enough and energetic enough that we can still derive considerable benefit from this wise and inspirational warrior.

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To Get Arab Support on Iran, Take a Leaf from Bush Sr.

As Jennifer noted yesterday, the latest WikiLeaks revelations definitively refute Barack Obama’s “linkage” theory: that Israeli concessions to the Palestinians were necessary to persuade Arab states to oppose Iran’s nuclear program. But what the documents reveal about the profound strategic misconception behind this theory is frightening.

The list of Arab states urging America to bomb Iran, and the forcefulness with which they urged it, is astonishing. It includes Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates; virtually the only exception was Qatar. Clearly, no Israeli concessions were needed to persuade these countries that strong action against Iran was desirable.

But both Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush insisted that this behind-the-scenes urging wasn’t enough; they needed Arab states to go public with it. As CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid told UAE officials in 2007, “we need our friends to say that they stand with the Americans.”

If Bush had any strategy for achieving this goal, it doesn’t emerge from the reports I’ve seen. But Obama did: linkage. If America showed that it’s on the Arabs’ side by extracting Israeli concessions, the theory went, then Arab states would no longer be reluctant to stand publicly beside the U.S.

But the idea that “soft power” could solve a quintessentially hard-power problem is a profound misconception, because the issue wasn’t the Arabs’ view of Washington as too pro-Israel; that never stopped them from supporting America if it served their interests before.

The real issue was their fear, given the visible reluctance to attack Iran displayed by both Bush and Obama, that if they publicly urged America to bomb Iran, and then America didn’t do it — they would be left alone to face the wrath of a nuclear-armed neighbor. And no amount of arm-twisting directed at Israel could possibly assuage that fear.

Indeed, only one thing could have done so: a clear American determination to attack Iran. You needn’t look far to find the model; it’s the one used by the first President George Bush in the Gulf War.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Arab states also initially refused to publicly back American action against Iraq. The day after the invasion, the Arab League even passed a resolution warning against outside intervention in the conflict.

But Bush, ignoring the verbiage, took swift action to assure Iraq’s neighbors that America wouldn’t leave them to face Iraq alone. Within a week, two naval battle groups had deployed to the area and more than 80 fighter jets had begun patrolling Saudi Arabia’s border. More forces arrived subsequently.

Only then did he start forming his coalition to invade Iraq. And with their protection assured, nine Arab states ultimately joined it.

Today, too, Arab states won’t publicly support attacking Iran without the surety that America will follow through. Nor can you blame them: they’re the ones who will have to live with a vengeful nuclear neighbor if America punts.

But you can certainly blame Washington for the delusion that gestures on an unrelated issue would suffice to allay a well-grounded existential fear — and be deeply worried that American leaders could misread the situation that profoundly.

As Jennifer noted yesterday, the latest WikiLeaks revelations definitively refute Barack Obama’s “linkage” theory: that Israeli concessions to the Palestinians were necessary to persuade Arab states to oppose Iran’s nuclear program. But what the documents reveal about the profound strategic misconception behind this theory is frightening.

The list of Arab states urging America to bomb Iran, and the forcefulness with which they urged it, is astonishing. It includes Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates; virtually the only exception was Qatar. Clearly, no Israeli concessions were needed to persuade these countries that strong action against Iran was desirable.

But both Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush insisted that this behind-the-scenes urging wasn’t enough; they needed Arab states to go public with it. As CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid told UAE officials in 2007, “we need our friends to say that they stand with the Americans.”

If Bush had any strategy for achieving this goal, it doesn’t emerge from the reports I’ve seen. But Obama did: linkage. If America showed that it’s on the Arabs’ side by extracting Israeli concessions, the theory went, then Arab states would no longer be reluctant to stand publicly beside the U.S.

But the idea that “soft power” could solve a quintessentially hard-power problem is a profound misconception, because the issue wasn’t the Arabs’ view of Washington as too pro-Israel; that never stopped them from supporting America if it served their interests before.

The real issue was their fear, given the visible reluctance to attack Iran displayed by both Bush and Obama, that if they publicly urged America to bomb Iran, and then America didn’t do it — they would be left alone to face the wrath of a nuclear-armed neighbor. And no amount of arm-twisting directed at Israel could possibly assuage that fear.

Indeed, only one thing could have done so: a clear American determination to attack Iran. You needn’t look far to find the model; it’s the one used by the first President George Bush in the Gulf War.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Arab states also initially refused to publicly back American action against Iraq. The day after the invasion, the Arab League even passed a resolution warning against outside intervention in the conflict.

But Bush, ignoring the verbiage, took swift action to assure Iraq’s neighbors that America wouldn’t leave them to face Iraq alone. Within a week, two naval battle groups had deployed to the area and more than 80 fighter jets had begun patrolling Saudi Arabia’s border. More forces arrived subsequently.

Only then did he start forming his coalition to invade Iraq. And with their protection assured, nine Arab states ultimately joined it.

Today, too, Arab states won’t publicly support attacking Iran without the surety that America will follow through. Nor can you blame them: they’re the ones who will have to live with a vengeful nuclear neighbor if America punts.

But you can certainly blame Washington for the delusion that gestures on an unrelated issue would suffice to allay a well-grounded existential fear — and be deeply worried that American leaders could misread the situation that profoundly.

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RE: CENTCOM’s ‘Red Team’ Hearts Hamas and Hezbollah

Jonathan Tobin is right to be concerned about the thinking evinced by the CENTCOM Red Team about Hezbollah and Hamas. But it doesn’t surprise me that much. It’s a natural outgrowth of the operational situation CENTCOM has been in since 9/11, fighting ground wars in two Muslim nations, establishing new bases in others, and maintaining military-to-military relations with every Muslim nation in the region except Iran and Syria. CENTCOM’s daily foreign contacts in the “AOR” — area of responsibility — are with Muslims, virtually all of whom are, in the context of their personal and professional lives, politically moderate and pragmatic. When they shake their heads over the problem of Israel, they don’t foam at the mouth or burn flags in the street. It becomes natural to accept that their view of things governs their behavior and requires accommodation, even if we don’t hold that view.

This is especially true because the one nation CENTCOM does not interact with is Israel. Israel is in the European Command’s (EUCOM’s) AOR. This separation between AORs is deliberate. It’s not unique: CENTCOM and the Pacific Command (PACOM) also divide Pakistan and India between them. Both AOR divisions were undertaken for the purpose of easing U.S. relations with the nations in confrontation on either side of the divide. In the case of CENTCOM, the influence of the Muslim side in each confrontation is the one our officials engage with daily. CENTCOM is tasked with maintaining effective military relations and getting a set of jobs done — and in its AOR, that means working with Muslim militaries and populations.

For a number of reasons, I have long favored the arrangement that keeps Israel in the EUCOM AOR. For one thing, Israel is a Western nation with strong cultural ties to Europe and the U.S. There are reasons remaining, which prevent us from putting together an effective AOR that includes both Israel and all the Muslim nations of the Middle East. Our ability to engage with Israel should not be subject to de facto vetoes by the Muslim nations that would deal with our officials in the same regional headquarters.

But during the flap earlier this year over General Petraeus’s comments about Israel and the Palestinians, one key point got little play outside of the foreign-policy wonkosphere, and that is that Petraeus actually requested the transfer of the West Bank and Gaza to the CENTCOM AOR. The reasoning was that doing so would improve the appearance of the U.S. engaging with the problem dearest to the hearts of the region’s Muslims. The reasons not to do this are, of course, obvious: the U.S. has endorsed no division of Israel and should not do anything to imply such an endorsement while a solution for the Palestinian Arabs remains to be negotiated.

Israel is a foreign-policy issue that requires top-level national thinking — like Russia, China, global terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. Even so sound a tactical thinker as David Petraeus took a limited regional view of Israel and the Palestinians when he weighed in on CENTCOM’s preferences. This isn’t surprising, really — and if we asked EUCOM to address Hezbollah and Hamas, we could probably expect a different answer from the one advanced by CENTCOM’s Red Team.

Jonathan Tobin is right to be concerned about the thinking evinced by the CENTCOM Red Team about Hezbollah and Hamas. But it doesn’t surprise me that much. It’s a natural outgrowth of the operational situation CENTCOM has been in since 9/11, fighting ground wars in two Muslim nations, establishing new bases in others, and maintaining military-to-military relations with every Muslim nation in the region except Iran and Syria. CENTCOM’s daily foreign contacts in the “AOR” — area of responsibility — are with Muslims, virtually all of whom are, in the context of their personal and professional lives, politically moderate and pragmatic. When they shake their heads over the problem of Israel, they don’t foam at the mouth or burn flags in the street. It becomes natural to accept that their view of things governs their behavior and requires accommodation, even if we don’t hold that view.

This is especially true because the one nation CENTCOM does not interact with is Israel. Israel is in the European Command’s (EUCOM’s) AOR. This separation between AORs is deliberate. It’s not unique: CENTCOM and the Pacific Command (PACOM) also divide Pakistan and India between them. Both AOR divisions were undertaken for the purpose of easing U.S. relations with the nations in confrontation on either side of the divide. In the case of CENTCOM, the influence of the Muslim side in each confrontation is the one our officials engage with daily. CENTCOM is tasked with maintaining effective military relations and getting a set of jobs done — and in its AOR, that means working with Muslim militaries and populations.

For a number of reasons, I have long favored the arrangement that keeps Israel in the EUCOM AOR. For one thing, Israel is a Western nation with strong cultural ties to Europe and the U.S. There are reasons remaining, which prevent us from putting together an effective AOR that includes both Israel and all the Muslim nations of the Middle East. Our ability to engage with Israel should not be subject to de facto vetoes by the Muslim nations that would deal with our officials in the same regional headquarters.

But during the flap earlier this year over General Petraeus’s comments about Israel and the Palestinians, one key point got little play outside of the foreign-policy wonkosphere, and that is that Petraeus actually requested the transfer of the West Bank and Gaza to the CENTCOM AOR. The reasoning was that doing so would improve the appearance of the U.S. engaging with the problem dearest to the hearts of the region’s Muslims. The reasons not to do this are, of course, obvious: the U.S. has endorsed no division of Israel and should not do anything to imply such an endorsement while a solution for the Palestinian Arabs remains to be negotiated.

Israel is a foreign-policy issue that requires top-level national thinking — like Russia, China, global terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. Even so sound a tactical thinker as David Petraeus took a limited regional view of Israel and the Palestinians when he weighed in on CENTCOM’s preferences. This isn’t surprising, really — and if we asked EUCOM to address Hezbollah and Hamas, we could probably expect a different answer from the one advanced by CENTCOM’s Red Team.

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McChrystal’s Media Woes

If there is one knock on Stanley McChrystal, generally considered one of the top generals in the entire armed forces, it is that, coming from the secretive world of “black” special operations, he is not experienced in dealing with the media. The consequences of that inexperience have now exploded in his face in the form of a hostile Rolling Stone article entitled “Runaway General.”

What on earth was McChrystal thinking, one wonders, when he decided to grant so much access to an anti-war reporter from an anti-war magazine? Michael Hastings’s animus against the war effort shines through every inch of his article. His conclusion is that “winning” in Afghanistan “is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.” Along the way he brands the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal is implementing “a controversial strategy” that is advocated only by “COINdiniastas” notorious for their “their cultish zeal.” When he quotes outside experts in the article, all of them express disparaging views about the prospects of success. For instance:

“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

There is no indication in the article that Macgregor is a notorious maverick widely known for his eccentric views, which included calling for the lightest of footprints in the invasion of Iraq (he thought that 50,000 troops would be sufficient) and later opposing the surge in Iraq.

Yet while Macgregor may think McChrystal is implementing an unworkable theory, McChrystal’s plan has had the solid support of General David Petraeus, head of Central Command; Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and, after an agonizing three-month review in the fall that considered every conceivable alternative, President Obama, himself.

McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?

It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.

McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.

If there is one knock on Stanley McChrystal, generally considered one of the top generals in the entire armed forces, it is that, coming from the secretive world of “black” special operations, he is not experienced in dealing with the media. The consequences of that inexperience have now exploded in his face in the form of a hostile Rolling Stone article entitled “Runaway General.”

What on earth was McChrystal thinking, one wonders, when he decided to grant so much access to an anti-war reporter from an anti-war magazine? Michael Hastings’s animus against the war effort shines through every inch of his article. His conclusion is that “winning” in Afghanistan “is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.” Along the way he brands the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal is implementing “a controversial strategy” that is advocated only by “COINdiniastas” notorious for their “their cultish zeal.” When he quotes outside experts in the article, all of them express disparaging views about the prospects of success. For instance:

“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

There is no indication in the article that Macgregor is a notorious maverick widely known for his eccentric views, which included calling for the lightest of footprints in the invasion of Iraq (he thought that 50,000 troops would be sufficient) and later opposing the surge in Iraq.

Yet while Macgregor may think McChrystal is implementing an unworkable theory, McChrystal’s plan has had the solid support of General David Petraeus, head of Central Command; Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and, after an agonizing three-month review in the fall that considered every conceivable alternative, President Obama, himself.

McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?

It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.

McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.

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Petraeus Is Not Anti-Israel

In the never-ending debate about General Petraeus and Israel, a few more data points are in — and they buttress what I have said earlier, that he is hardly the Israel-basher that some on the Left (and in the Arab world) celebrate and others on the Right denounce.

Point 1: at the Woodrow Wilson Center on April 13, Petraeus noted that some commentators had seized on one of the 11 factors he had mentioned to Congress as being important in shaping the Middle East — namely lack of progress “toward a comprehensive Middle East Peace.” He noted of his congressional statement: “It did not say anything about settlements. It didn’t say anything about putting our soldiers at risk or something like that. But it [lack of progress] does create an environment. It does contribute, if you will, to the overall environment within which we operate.” And then he added: “I think it’s fair to say you could have said, ‘General, nonetheless, Israel is — has been, is and will be an important strategic ally of the United States.’ And that is fair enough. And I think that that’s something that we could and should have included in that, just to make sure that there was no missed perception about what we were implying by this.”

Point 2: at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony on April 15, Petraeus paid tribute to survivors: “The men and women who walked or were carried out of the death camps, and their descendents, have enriched our world immeasurably in the sciences and in the arts, in literature and in philanthropy. They have made extraordinary contributions in academia, in business, and in government. And, they have, of course, helped build a nation that stands as one of our great allies. The survivors have, in short, made our country and our world better, leaving lasting achievements wherever they settled.” The line about building “a nation that stands as one of our great allies” was picked up in a news story by the Jerusalem Post. The newspaper might also have noted another section of his comments, which I intrepret as an oblique reference to Iran: “It is instructive, periodically, that we remember what can happen when demonic dictators are able to hijack a country. We should never forget that.”

Point 3: Petraeus sent a letter on March 30 to Congressman Buck McKeon, ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who had asked for further clarification of the general’s views of Israel. The letter (which has not previously been released) noted Centcom’s “highest priorities… the issues that keep us up at night” are not Israeli-Palestinian relations but rather “militant groups, hostile states, and [weapons of mass destruction,” along with “the instability in South Asia, the activities and policies of the Iranian regime, the situation in Iraq and the growth of [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] in Yemen.” Petreaus said that the peace process is important but no more important than “other cross-cutting factors mentioned.” He noted, as well, that neither an internal study that Centcom had conducted of the issue “nor my posture statement assigns blame for this lack of progress [in peace talks], nor do they link the lack of progress with the lives of U.S. service members.”

In sum, while Petraeus may assign greater importance to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process than some analysts (including myself) would, he is hardly anti-Israel. He hasn’t even expressed an opinion on the future of Israeli settlements, much less endorsed President Obama’s push to ban all Israeli building activity in East Jerusalem. That’s not his role. As I’ve said before, those who are (rightly) unhappy with the turn in U.S. policy against Israel should address their concerns to the White House, not to Centcom, where General Petraeus is primarily focused on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran — not on Israel.

In the never-ending debate about General Petraeus and Israel, a few more data points are in — and they buttress what I have said earlier, that he is hardly the Israel-basher that some on the Left (and in the Arab world) celebrate and others on the Right denounce.

Point 1: at the Woodrow Wilson Center on April 13, Petraeus noted that some commentators had seized on one of the 11 factors he had mentioned to Congress as being important in shaping the Middle East — namely lack of progress “toward a comprehensive Middle East Peace.” He noted of his congressional statement: “It did not say anything about settlements. It didn’t say anything about putting our soldiers at risk or something like that. But it [lack of progress] does create an environment. It does contribute, if you will, to the overall environment within which we operate.” And then he added: “I think it’s fair to say you could have said, ‘General, nonetheless, Israel is — has been, is and will be an important strategic ally of the United States.’ And that is fair enough. And I think that that’s something that we could and should have included in that, just to make sure that there was no missed perception about what we were implying by this.”

Point 2: at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony on April 15, Petraeus paid tribute to survivors: “The men and women who walked or were carried out of the death camps, and their descendents, have enriched our world immeasurably in the sciences and in the arts, in literature and in philanthropy. They have made extraordinary contributions in academia, in business, and in government. And, they have, of course, helped build a nation that stands as one of our great allies. The survivors have, in short, made our country and our world better, leaving lasting achievements wherever they settled.” The line about building “a nation that stands as one of our great allies” was picked up in a news story by the Jerusalem Post. The newspaper might also have noted another section of his comments, which I intrepret as an oblique reference to Iran: “It is instructive, periodically, that we remember what can happen when demonic dictators are able to hijack a country. We should never forget that.”

Point 3: Petraeus sent a letter on March 30 to Congressman Buck McKeon, ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who had asked for further clarification of the general’s views of Israel. The letter (which has not previously been released) noted Centcom’s “highest priorities… the issues that keep us up at night” are not Israeli-Palestinian relations but rather “militant groups, hostile states, and [weapons of mass destruction,” along with “the instability in South Asia, the activities and policies of the Iranian regime, the situation in Iraq and the growth of [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] in Yemen.” Petreaus said that the peace process is important but no more important than “other cross-cutting factors mentioned.” He noted, as well, that neither an internal study that Centcom had conducted of the issue “nor my posture statement assigns blame for this lack of progress [in peace talks], nor do they link the lack of progress with the lives of U.S. service members.”

In sum, while Petraeus may assign greater importance to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process than some analysts (including myself) would, he is hardly anti-Israel. He hasn’t even expressed an opinion on the future of Israeli settlements, much less endorsed President Obama’s push to ban all Israeli building activity in East Jerusalem. That’s not his role. As I’ve said before, those who are (rightly) unhappy with the turn in U.S. policy against Israel should address their concerns to the White House, not to Centcom, where General Petraeus is primarily focused on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran — not on Israel.

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Is General Petraeus Behind Obama’s Dressing Down of Israel?

What’s behind the administration’s new get-tough policy with Israel? If you believe Mark Perry, a former Arafat adviser and author of Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage with Its Enemies, it’s the doing of General David Petraeus. In a rather imaginative post at Foreign Policy’s web site, he claims that on Jan. 16,

a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”

According to Perry, the briefing “hit the White House like a bombshell,” because in effect the U.S. military was placing itself in opposition to the “powerful … Israeli lobby” by announcing that “America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers.”

That didn’t ring true to me, so I asked a military officer who is familiar with the briefing in question and with Petraeus’s thinking on the issue to clarify matters. He told me that Perry’s item was “incorrect.” In the first place, Petraeus never recommended shifting the Palestinian territories to Centcom’s purview from European Command, as claimed by Perry. Nor did Petraeus belittle George Mitchell, whom he holds in high regard. All that happened, this officer told me, is that there was a “staff-officer briefing … on the situation in the West Bank, because that situation is a concern that Centcom hears in the Arab world all the time. Nothing more than that.”

I further queried this officer as to whether he had ever heard Petraeus express the view imputed to him by Mark Perry — namely that Israel’s West Bank settlements are the biggest obstacle to a peace accord and that the lack of a peace accord is responsible for killing American soldiers. This officer told me that he had heard Petraeus say “the lack of progress in the Peace Process, for whatever reason, creates challenges in Centcom’s AOR [Area of Responsibility], especially for the more moderate governmental leaders,” and that’s a concern — one of many — but he did not suggest that Petraeus was mainly blaming Israel and its settlements for the lack of progress. They are, he said, “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

That’s about what I expected: Petraeus holds a much more realistic and nuanced view than the one attributed to him by terrorist groupie Mark Perry. (For more on Petraeus’s view, see this report, which notes that Mulllen was not “stunned” by the briefing he received.) In other words, the current crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations cannot be laid at the American military’s door.

What’s behind the administration’s new get-tough policy with Israel? If you believe Mark Perry, a former Arafat adviser and author of Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage with Its Enemies, it’s the doing of General David Petraeus. In a rather imaginative post at Foreign Policy’s web site, he claims that on Jan. 16,

a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”

According to Perry, the briefing “hit the White House like a bombshell,” because in effect the U.S. military was placing itself in opposition to the “powerful … Israeli lobby” by announcing that “America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers.”

That didn’t ring true to me, so I asked a military officer who is familiar with the briefing in question and with Petraeus’s thinking on the issue to clarify matters. He told me that Perry’s item was “incorrect.” In the first place, Petraeus never recommended shifting the Palestinian territories to Centcom’s purview from European Command, as claimed by Perry. Nor did Petraeus belittle George Mitchell, whom he holds in high regard. All that happened, this officer told me, is that there was a “staff-officer briefing … on the situation in the West Bank, because that situation is a concern that Centcom hears in the Arab world all the time. Nothing more than that.”

I further queried this officer as to whether he had ever heard Petraeus express the view imputed to him by Mark Perry — namely that Israel’s West Bank settlements are the biggest obstacle to a peace accord and that the lack of a peace accord is responsible for killing American soldiers. This officer told me that he had heard Petraeus say “the lack of progress in the Peace Process, for whatever reason, creates challenges in Centcom’s AOR [Area of Responsibility], especially for the more moderate governmental leaders,” and that’s a concern — one of many — but he did not suggest that Petraeus was mainly blaming Israel and its settlements for the lack of progress. They are, he said, “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

That’s about what I expected: Petraeus holds a much more realistic and nuanced view than the one attributed to him by terrorist groupie Mark Perry. (For more on Petraeus’s view, see this report, which notes that Mulllen was not “stunned” by the briefing he received.) In other words, the current crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations cannot be laid at the American military’s door.

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Iran’s at War . . . with Us

General Petraeus has told the BBC that Iran was behind the mortar and rocket fire that fell on the Green Zone on Sunday. When are we going to wake up to the fact that Iran is waging war on us? And, alas, being pretty effective in doing so.

You can make the case that the way to deal with Iran is to appease it. That’s not the tack I would take (and in fact I would argue that the accomodationist policy of outgoing Centcom commander Fox Fallon was taken as a sign of weakness by the Iranians). But it’s one possible policy choice.

But whatever we choose to do, let’s at least be honest about what Iran is up to. Many refuse to look squarely at the facts. Thus too often we hear that, notwithstanding the copious evidence of Iranian-orchestrated attacks on coalition forces in Iraq, there is no “proof” that the senior leadership in Tehran knows what’s going on. The only way the mullahs could miss it is if they don’t listen to the BBC and don’t receive reports on what the BBC is saying. That’s really stretching credulity a bit too far.

General Petraeus has told the BBC that Iran was behind the mortar and rocket fire that fell on the Green Zone on Sunday. When are we going to wake up to the fact that Iran is waging war on us? And, alas, being pretty effective in doing so.

You can make the case that the way to deal with Iran is to appease it. That’s not the tack I would take (and in fact I would argue that the accomodationist policy of outgoing Centcom commander Fox Fallon was taken as a sign of weakness by the Iranians). But it’s one possible policy choice.

But whatever we choose to do, let’s at least be honest about what Iran is up to. Many refuse to look squarely at the facts. Thus too often we hear that, notwithstanding the copious evidence of Iranian-orchestrated attacks on coalition forces in Iraq, there is no “proof” that the senior leadership in Tehran knows what’s going on. The only way the mullahs could miss it is if they don’t listen to the BBC and don’t receive reports on what the BBC is saying. That’s really stretching credulity a bit too far.

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