Commentary Magazine


Topic: Central Command

No Fifth Star for Petraeus … Yet

I am a fan and admirer of Pete Hegseth and Wade Zirkle, two distinguished combat veterans who have been the driving forces behind Vets for Freedom, an important organization (on whose advisory board I once served) that has done much to buttress home-front support for the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am all the more impressed by Hegseth for his willingness to volunteer to go to Afghanistan this year as a reservist, with no obligation to do so. Needless to say, I am also a great admirer of David Petraeus — our most successful general since Matthew Ridgway. But I cannot see the imperative of giving Petraeus a fifth star as suggested by Hegseth and Zirkle in this Wall Street Journal op-ed.

As I understand it, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur, and the other great World War II commanders got five stars so they would not be outranked by British field marshals. (As I recall, FDR considered creating an American rank of “field marshal” but decided to call it “general of the army” because “Marshal Marshall” would have sounded silly.) That’s not a concern today, so it’s hard to see any practical reason to elevate Petraeus and easy to see many difficulties that would arise if the U.S. commander in Afghanistan were to outrank the Central Command commander, his nominal boss, and even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Petraeus is already primus inter pares by virtue of his success in Iraq. Formally giving him another star would only make his life more difficult when he has to deal with his four-star counterparts.

However, I do think that when Petraeus is ready for retirement — something that I hope will not happen anytime soon — Congress should consider granting him another star if by that point he has turned around the war in Afghanistan as he did in Iraq. Heck, I’d even be in favor of reviving the old British custom of giving vast estates and pots of money to winning generals, though these days the Washington Speakers Bureau achieves the same result without government subsidy. So I do not absolutely oppose the Hegseth/Zirkle proposal; I just think it is premature.

I am a fan and admirer of Pete Hegseth and Wade Zirkle, two distinguished combat veterans who have been the driving forces behind Vets for Freedom, an important organization (on whose advisory board I once served) that has done much to buttress home-front support for the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am all the more impressed by Hegseth for his willingness to volunteer to go to Afghanistan this year as a reservist, with no obligation to do so. Needless to say, I am also a great admirer of David Petraeus — our most successful general since Matthew Ridgway. But I cannot see the imperative of giving Petraeus a fifth star as suggested by Hegseth and Zirkle in this Wall Street Journal op-ed.

As I understand it, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur, and the other great World War II commanders got five stars so they would not be outranked by British field marshals. (As I recall, FDR considered creating an American rank of “field marshal” but decided to call it “general of the army” because “Marshal Marshall” would have sounded silly.) That’s not a concern today, so it’s hard to see any practical reason to elevate Petraeus and easy to see many difficulties that would arise if the U.S. commander in Afghanistan were to outrank the Central Command commander, his nominal boss, and even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Petraeus is already primus inter pares by virtue of his success in Iraq. Formally giving him another star would only make his life more difficult when he has to deal with his four-star counterparts.

However, I do think that when Petraeus is ready for retirement — something that I hope will not happen anytime soon — Congress should consider granting him another star if by that point he has turned around the war in Afghanistan as he did in Iraq. Heck, I’d even be in favor of reviving the old British custom of giving vast estates and pots of money to winning generals, though these days the Washington Speakers Bureau achieves the same result without government subsidy. So I do not absolutely oppose the Hegseth/Zirkle proposal; I just think it is premature.

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Middle East Chaos

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

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JFCOM to Be Shut Down?

Defense Secretary Bob Gates has just announced a new round of budget cuts, the major move being the proposed elimination of U.S. Joint Forces Command. JFCOM is one of the newer “combatant commands”; it was created in 1999 to work on “joint” training, doctrine, capabilities, and force generation — all missions that in the past had gone exclusively to the individual military services. The thinking at the time in Congress and at the Pentagon was that a more unified approach was needed to avoid some of the traditional duplication and lack of synchronization.

Apparently, Gates thinks the mission could be done just as well without the existence of a four-star command. Is he right? He may well be. And I say that even though I have been peripherally involved in JFCOM’s operations as a member (unpaid) of its Transformation Advisory Group. Certainly, JFCOM, like all military bureaucracies (indeed all bureaucracies, period), has its share of fat. But it also performed some important functions that will have to be done by someone, whether the command exists or not.

The budget savings from this move will hardly do much to reduce the Pentagon’s budget, much less to close the government’s growing budget deficit. As the Associated Press notes, JFCOM has “nearly 4,900 employees and annual salaries of more than $200 million” — a pittance in federal-budget terms. Indeed, you could cut the entire Pentagon budget ($535 billion) and still not eliminate this year’s budget deficit — $1.47 trillion. To say nothing of our federal debt, which is over $13 billion and counting.

I am all in favor of cutting government spending. But we should be careful about cutting defense spending in wartime. Moreover, we should be careful about dumping the burden of “deficit cutting” onto the Department of Defense while ignoring the budget items actually responsible for most federal spending. OK, cut JFCOM. But then cut, too, the entitlement programs, which, with the encouragement and connivance of both the president and Congress, are growing out of control.

A final question concerns the fate of General Ray Odierno, who is about to leave Iraq to assume the command of… JFCOM, a post just vacated by Gen. Jim Mattis, the new Central Command chief. Where will Odierno go now? His services are far too valuable to be lost, but there wouldn’t be an abundance of open four-star jobs if JFCOM were, in fact, eliminated — which would take an act of Congress. My bet would be on him succeeding General George Casey as army chief of staff.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates has just announced a new round of budget cuts, the major move being the proposed elimination of U.S. Joint Forces Command. JFCOM is one of the newer “combatant commands”; it was created in 1999 to work on “joint” training, doctrine, capabilities, and force generation — all missions that in the past had gone exclusively to the individual military services. The thinking at the time in Congress and at the Pentagon was that a more unified approach was needed to avoid some of the traditional duplication and lack of synchronization.

Apparently, Gates thinks the mission could be done just as well without the existence of a four-star command. Is he right? He may well be. And I say that even though I have been peripherally involved in JFCOM’s operations as a member (unpaid) of its Transformation Advisory Group. Certainly, JFCOM, like all military bureaucracies (indeed all bureaucracies, period), has its share of fat. But it also performed some important functions that will have to be done by someone, whether the command exists or not.

The budget savings from this move will hardly do much to reduce the Pentagon’s budget, much less to close the government’s growing budget deficit. As the Associated Press notes, JFCOM has “nearly 4,900 employees and annual salaries of more than $200 million” — a pittance in federal-budget terms. Indeed, you could cut the entire Pentagon budget ($535 billion) and still not eliminate this year’s budget deficit — $1.47 trillion. To say nothing of our federal debt, which is over $13 billion and counting.

I am all in favor of cutting government spending. But we should be careful about cutting defense spending in wartime. Moreover, we should be careful about dumping the burden of “deficit cutting” onto the Department of Defense while ignoring the budget items actually responsible for most federal spending. OK, cut JFCOM. But then cut, too, the entitlement programs, which, with the encouragement and connivance of both the president and Congress, are growing out of control.

A final question concerns the fate of General Ray Odierno, who is about to leave Iraq to assume the command of… JFCOM, a post just vacated by Gen. Jim Mattis, the new Central Command chief. Where will Odierno go now? His services are far too valuable to be lost, but there wouldn’t be an abundance of open four-star jobs if JFCOM were, in fact, eliminated — which would take an act of Congress. My bet would be on him succeeding General George Casey as army chief of staff.

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How Petraeus Is Conducting Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

Quietly, without a lot of hype or fanfare, General David Petraeus is putting his stamp on operations in Afghanistan. A few indications of his approach have emerged in the past week.

First, there was the Counterinsurgency Guidance he issued to the troops. In many ways it echoes the guidance from McChrystal and the guidance Petraeus himself had issued in Iraq. For instance, it begins with an injunction to “secure and serve the population” and to “live among the people,” both classic precepts of “population-centric counterinsurgency.”

But the new COIN Guidance also emphasizes the need to “help confront the culture of impunity” — which is to say the rampant corruption which alienates the people of Afghanistan from their government and drives them into the arms of the Taliban. In a similar vein, Petraeus tells the troops to “help Afghans build accountable governance” and to “identify corrupt officials.” One of the biggest problems in Afghanistan has been that too often Western money is inadvertently fueling corruption — so Petraeus instructs his command: “Money is ammunition; don’t put it in the wrong hands.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that, to help ensure that the coalition does a better job of fighting corruption, Petraeus is assigning Brigadier General H.R. McMaster — one of the brightest and most famous officers in the entire army — to spearhead a new task force dealing with this problem. That’s very good news, because, while corruption has long been on NATO’s radar screen as an important issue, it has not gotten the resources or attention that it deserves. With McMaster on the case, it’s safe to say that the visibility of this issue will be elevated — as it should be.

Petraeus has also issued a new “tactical directive” governing the use of force. This has been a hot-button issue with some troops and their families (and a few commentators in the States), who have claimed that McChrystal had issued overly restrictive rules of engagement, which made it impossible for troops in combat to call in badly needed air support. Those who hoped that Petraeus would lift the restrictions will be disappointed; but those who realize that the heart of successful counterinsurgency is to win over the people will be cheered by Petraeus’s directive, which slightly adjusts, but does not repudiate, McChrystal’s approach. The directive instructs the troops: “[W]e must remember that it is a moral imperative both to protect Afghan civilians and to bring all assets to bear to protect our men and women in uniform and the Afghan security forces with whom we are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder when they are in a tough spot.” That’s exactly the right balance that any smart commander in a counterinsurgency must strike.

These are not massive changes from the McChrystal approach. But then again, massive changes aren’t needed because McChrystal was basically on the right path — and Petraeus, as Central Command chief, had been guiding McChrystal along. These are the kinds of course adjustments that any prudent commander will make when faced with a thinking, adaptive foe. We should not make too much of these initial moves by Petraeus but they do indicate the kind of counterinsurgency effort he is conducting — one that tries to protect the population not only from the Taliban but also from corrupt and predatory government officials.

Quietly, without a lot of hype or fanfare, General David Petraeus is putting his stamp on operations in Afghanistan. A few indications of his approach have emerged in the past week.

First, there was the Counterinsurgency Guidance he issued to the troops. In many ways it echoes the guidance from McChrystal and the guidance Petraeus himself had issued in Iraq. For instance, it begins with an injunction to “secure and serve the population” and to “live among the people,” both classic precepts of “population-centric counterinsurgency.”

But the new COIN Guidance also emphasizes the need to “help confront the culture of impunity” — which is to say the rampant corruption which alienates the people of Afghanistan from their government and drives them into the arms of the Taliban. In a similar vein, Petraeus tells the troops to “help Afghans build accountable governance” and to “identify corrupt officials.” One of the biggest problems in Afghanistan has been that too often Western money is inadvertently fueling corruption — so Petraeus instructs his command: “Money is ammunition; don’t put it in the wrong hands.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that, to help ensure that the coalition does a better job of fighting corruption, Petraeus is assigning Brigadier General H.R. McMaster — one of the brightest and most famous officers in the entire army — to spearhead a new task force dealing with this problem. That’s very good news, because, while corruption has long been on NATO’s radar screen as an important issue, it has not gotten the resources or attention that it deserves. With McMaster on the case, it’s safe to say that the visibility of this issue will be elevated — as it should be.

Petraeus has also issued a new “tactical directive” governing the use of force. This has been a hot-button issue with some troops and their families (and a few commentators in the States), who have claimed that McChrystal had issued overly restrictive rules of engagement, which made it impossible for troops in combat to call in badly needed air support. Those who hoped that Petraeus would lift the restrictions will be disappointed; but those who realize that the heart of successful counterinsurgency is to win over the people will be cheered by Petraeus’s directive, which slightly adjusts, but does not repudiate, McChrystal’s approach. The directive instructs the troops: “[W]e must remember that it is a moral imperative both to protect Afghan civilians and to bring all assets to bear to protect our men and women in uniform and the Afghan security forces with whom we are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder when they are in a tough spot.” That’s exactly the right balance that any smart commander in a counterinsurgency must strike.

These are not massive changes from the McChrystal approach. But then again, massive changes aren’t needed because McChrystal was basically on the right path — and Petraeus, as Central Command chief, had been guiding McChrystal along. These are the kinds of course adjustments that any prudent commander will make when faced with a thinking, adaptive foe. We should not make too much of these initial moves by Petraeus but they do indicate the kind of counterinsurgency effort he is conducting — one that tries to protect the population not only from the Taliban but also from corrupt and predatory government officials.

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Jim Mattis: New Head of Central Command

The New York Times has a nice article on the general chosen to head Central Command — Jim Mattis. I’ve known Mattis since the summer of 2003, when I spent some time in Iraq while he was commander of the 1st Marine Division. I was struck by how quickly and seamlessly he made the transition from conventional operations to what the military calls “stability operations” in the Shiite heartland of central Iraq. His methods were similar to those being employed in northern Iraq by another divisional commander — David Petraeus, of the 101st Airborne Division. (For my report on their efforts see this article.)

I’ve often wondered since then: whatever happened to those guys? Just kidding.

Petraeus’s stratospheric and well deserved rise to become the most celebrated American general since Eisenhower has already become legend. Mattis has not gotten the same degree of attention, but he completed another tour of duty in Iraq, helped co-author the Army/Marine Field Manual on Counterinsurgency with Petraeus, and went on to head the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

His many admirers, of whom I am one, were puzzled by his failure to be appointed to one of the truly plum jobs, such as that of Marine Commandant or Central Command chief. This was generally attributed to his salty tongue; he got into hot water in 2005 for saying at a public forum: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” This was seen as a cardinal violation of the rules of political correctness, which hold that soldiers are only supposed to talk about the anguish, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder they experience; they are never supposed to comment on the thrill of the kill.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates and President Obama deserve considerable credit for not letting this minor fracas stop them from appointing Mattis as Petraeus’s successor at Centcom. What they undoubtedly know, and what the rest of the world will discover, is that Mattis is not only a “warrior’s warrior” (as he is described in the Times) but also a “diplomat’s diplomat.” In his JFCOM role, he was for a while responsible for NATO force transformation, which required him to press NATO officials to do more to upgrade their armed forces. He was not always successful (who would be?), but he was by all accounts a compelling and persuasive diplomat. He has become known for sending everyone he meets a personal “thank you” note — not a standard-issue form but rather a letter that reflects on the substance of the conversation.

I got one myself after hosting Mattis for an off-the-record roundtable at the Council on Foreign Relations. Given the ground rules, I can’t discuss what he said, but I can mention the impression he made on some jaded Council members in New York. He wowed them by combining the erudition of a Harvard professor with a combat grunt’s gift for aphorism. He showed why he is revered not only as a combat leader but also as an intellectual whose personal library of military works runs to thousands of volumes. It is hard to imagine a better choice to head Central Command. I trust he will enjoy smooth sailing in the Senate confirmation process.

The New York Times has a nice article on the general chosen to head Central Command — Jim Mattis. I’ve known Mattis since the summer of 2003, when I spent some time in Iraq while he was commander of the 1st Marine Division. I was struck by how quickly and seamlessly he made the transition from conventional operations to what the military calls “stability operations” in the Shiite heartland of central Iraq. His methods were similar to those being employed in northern Iraq by another divisional commander — David Petraeus, of the 101st Airborne Division. (For my report on their efforts see this article.)

I’ve often wondered since then: whatever happened to those guys? Just kidding.

Petraeus’s stratospheric and well deserved rise to become the most celebrated American general since Eisenhower has already become legend. Mattis has not gotten the same degree of attention, but he completed another tour of duty in Iraq, helped co-author the Army/Marine Field Manual on Counterinsurgency with Petraeus, and went on to head the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

His many admirers, of whom I am one, were puzzled by his failure to be appointed to one of the truly plum jobs, such as that of Marine Commandant or Central Command chief. This was generally attributed to his salty tongue; he got into hot water in 2005 for saying at a public forum: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” This was seen as a cardinal violation of the rules of political correctness, which hold that soldiers are only supposed to talk about the anguish, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder they experience; they are never supposed to comment on the thrill of the kill.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates and President Obama deserve considerable credit for not letting this minor fracas stop them from appointing Mattis as Petraeus’s successor at Centcom. What they undoubtedly know, and what the rest of the world will discover, is that Mattis is not only a “warrior’s warrior” (as he is described in the Times) but also a “diplomat’s diplomat.” In his JFCOM role, he was for a while responsible for NATO force transformation, which required him to press NATO officials to do more to upgrade their armed forces. He was not always successful (who would be?), but he was by all accounts a compelling and persuasive diplomat. He has become known for sending everyone he meets a personal “thank you” note — not a standard-issue form but rather a letter that reflects on the substance of the conversation.

I got one myself after hosting Mattis for an off-the-record roundtable at the Council on Foreign Relations. Given the ground rules, I can’t discuss what he said, but I can mention the impression he made on some jaded Council members in New York. He wowed them by combining the erudition of a Harvard professor with a combat grunt’s gift for aphorism. He showed why he is revered not only as a combat leader but also as an intellectual whose personal library of military works runs to thousands of volumes. It is hard to imagine a better choice to head Central Command. I trust he will enjoy smooth sailing in the Senate confirmation process.

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CENTCOM’s ‘Red Team’ Hearts Hamas and Hezbollah

It appears that the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups have some friends in a rather unlikely niche of the American military. While the Obama administration has maintained the line that both these groups are terrorist and threats to peace, some senior intelligence officers at the U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) think the United States should be making nice with them.

According to Mark Perry, writing in Foreign Policy, a leaked memo that was issued on May 7 by a CENTCOM “Red Team” asserts that the United States ought to be advocating for Hezbollah’s integration into the Lebanese Armed Forces and a Hamas-Fatah merger for the Palestinians. He quotes the report as characterizing the Islamist terror groups as “pragmatic and opportunistic” and plays down the close ties between them and Iran, for which they are widely viewed as local proxies. The memo compared Hezbollah with the post–Good Friday Agreement Irish Republican Army and seems to envision its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, becoming the Gerry Adams of Lebanon and a force for peace. As for Hamas, not only did the report boost that Islamist group, but it also dismissed the much-touted efforts of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton in helping to train a new Palestinian security force that would control terrorism.

Red Team reports are supposed to challenge existing policies and attitudes, but according to Perry, this apologia for Hamas and Hezbollah and repudiation of efforts to isolate these terror organizations actually “reflects the thinking among a significant number of senior officers at CENTCOM headquarters — and among senior CENTCOM intelligence officers and analysts serving in the Middle East.”

If that is so, then it is a matter of deep concern for those who worry about the future of the Middle East. While the Obama administration has sought to distance itself from Israel, it has nevertheless resisted the temptation to repudiate the basic principles of American policy, which has always insisted that such groups must repudiate terrorism, recognize the State of Israel, and adhere to existing peace agreements before they can seek U.S. recognition, let alone the sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that the CENTCOM Red Team believes should be given to them. Moreover, the memo’s repudiation of efforts to aid Palestinian moderates ought to give Israelis pause. Both Israel and the United States have been active in supporting the efforts of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s attempts to create an infrastructure that could resist Hamas and become a credible partner for peace. But calling for Hamas to be integrated into the forces that Dayton is training is tantamount to saying that the two-state solution is dead and that Israel is, more or less, on its own as it faces the challenge of Palestinian terror.

There are many problems with the Red Team’s point of view, but the chief objection is that it completely misunderstands the power of extremist religion in determining the policies of both Hamas and Hezbollah. Both are guided by Islamist ideas that utterly reject the legitimacy of Israel and are steeped in anti-Jewish and anti-Western hatred. The notion that they can be house trained in the way that the Red Team envisions is not only ridiculous but also bespeaks a Western mindset that has no comprehension of extremist Islamic or Arabic political culture.

While there is no reason to believe that either the administration or outgoing CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus has endorsed this radical departure from American anti-terror policy, the leaking of this memo and the notion that it represents the opinions of many in the Pentagon ought to scare Israelis and leave them less willing than ever to make the sorts of concessions Washington believes can strengthen the peace process. If many in the U.S. military are willing to rationalize Hamas and Hezbollah in the way this memo does, then Israelis may be forgiven for concluding that perhaps they need to re-evaluate their own faith in American guarantees of the security of the Jewish state.

It appears that the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups have some friends in a rather unlikely niche of the American military. While the Obama administration has maintained the line that both these groups are terrorist and threats to peace, some senior intelligence officers at the U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) think the United States should be making nice with them.

According to Mark Perry, writing in Foreign Policy, a leaked memo that was issued on May 7 by a CENTCOM “Red Team” asserts that the United States ought to be advocating for Hezbollah’s integration into the Lebanese Armed Forces and a Hamas-Fatah merger for the Palestinians. He quotes the report as characterizing the Islamist terror groups as “pragmatic and opportunistic” and plays down the close ties between them and Iran, for which they are widely viewed as local proxies. The memo compared Hezbollah with the post–Good Friday Agreement Irish Republican Army and seems to envision its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, becoming the Gerry Adams of Lebanon and a force for peace. As for Hamas, not only did the report boost that Islamist group, but it also dismissed the much-touted efforts of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton in helping to train a new Palestinian security force that would control terrorism.

Red Team reports are supposed to challenge existing policies and attitudes, but according to Perry, this apologia for Hamas and Hezbollah and repudiation of efforts to isolate these terror organizations actually “reflects the thinking among a significant number of senior officers at CENTCOM headquarters — and among senior CENTCOM intelligence officers and analysts serving in the Middle East.”

If that is so, then it is a matter of deep concern for those who worry about the future of the Middle East. While the Obama administration has sought to distance itself from Israel, it has nevertheless resisted the temptation to repudiate the basic principles of American policy, which has always insisted that such groups must repudiate terrorism, recognize the State of Israel, and adhere to existing peace agreements before they can seek U.S. recognition, let alone the sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that the CENTCOM Red Team believes should be given to them. Moreover, the memo’s repudiation of efforts to aid Palestinian moderates ought to give Israelis pause. Both Israel and the United States have been active in supporting the efforts of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s attempts to create an infrastructure that could resist Hamas and become a credible partner for peace. But calling for Hamas to be integrated into the forces that Dayton is training is tantamount to saying that the two-state solution is dead and that Israel is, more or less, on its own as it faces the challenge of Palestinian terror.

There are many problems with the Red Team’s point of view, but the chief objection is that it completely misunderstands the power of extremist religion in determining the policies of both Hamas and Hezbollah. Both are guided by Islamist ideas that utterly reject the legitimacy of Israel and are steeped in anti-Jewish and anti-Western hatred. The notion that they can be house trained in the way that the Red Team envisions is not only ridiculous but also bespeaks a Western mindset that has no comprehension of extremist Islamic or Arabic political culture.

While there is no reason to believe that either the administration or outgoing CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus has endorsed this radical departure from American anti-terror policy, the leaking of this memo and the notion that it represents the opinions of many in the Pentagon ought to scare Israelis and leave them less willing than ever to make the sorts of concessions Washington believes can strengthen the peace process. If many in the U.S. military are willing to rationalize Hamas and Hezbollah in the way this memo does, then Israelis may be forgiven for concluding that perhaps they need to re-evaluate their own faith in American guarantees of the security of the Jewish state.

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Who Is to Replace Petraeus?

The brilliant and unorthodox decision to appoint General Petraeus to direct operations in Afghanistan leaves a hole at the top of Central Command. There are two obvious choices: Ray Odierno or Jim Mattis. Either one would be superb. Odierno is better known for his role in Iraq, where he was co-architect with Petraeus of the “surge.” More recently, he has been the top man in Iraq overseeing the perilous draw down of American forces. He is scheduled to leave Iraq at the end of the summer and take over Joint Forces Command. In that capacity he would succeed Mattis, a combat Marine who has led troops successfully in both Afghanistan and Iraq and who has later co-written the Army-Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual with Petraeus. Mattis, like Odierno, knows counterinsurgency and knows the Middle East — and he will be headed for retirement to an apple orchard in Walla Walla, Washington, unless he gets another military job. Filling Petraeus’s boots at Centcom is a tall order, but either Mattis or Odierno would be a great bet for the job.

The brilliant and unorthodox decision to appoint General Petraeus to direct operations in Afghanistan leaves a hole at the top of Central Command. There are two obvious choices: Ray Odierno or Jim Mattis. Either one would be superb. Odierno is better known for his role in Iraq, where he was co-architect with Petraeus of the “surge.” More recently, he has been the top man in Iraq overseeing the perilous draw down of American forces. He is scheduled to leave Iraq at the end of the summer and take over Joint Forces Command. In that capacity he would succeed Mattis, a combat Marine who has led troops successfully in both Afghanistan and Iraq and who has later co-written the Army-Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual with Petraeus. Mattis, like Odierno, knows counterinsurgency and knows the Middle East — and he will be headed for retirement to an apple orchard in Walla Walla, Washington, unless he gets another military job. Filling Petraeus’s boots at Centcom is a tall order, but either Mattis or Odierno would be a great bet for the job.

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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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Building an East Asian NATO

A common complaint heard among American officials and policy analysts is that in East Asia — one of the most important and conflict-prone areas of the planet — there is no security architecture comparable to NATO. The U.S. has ties to many key countries, notably Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, and Taiwan. But they do not have strong ties to one another, and there is no joint military planning of the kind that NATO undertakes. That does not seem likely to change in the future, because, although all those nations are suspicious of growing Chinese power, they also do not want to antagonize the 500-pound panda by forming an explicit alliance for its containment. The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, formed in 1954, was a colossal failure and is unlikely to be resurrected.

But there are still steps that U.S. officials can take to encourage greater cooperation among our regional partners. In this regard, I was struck a few days ago while visiting Pacific Command headquarters, looked at Camp Smith overlooking Pearl Harbor, by the near-total absence of coalition allies. At Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Base in Tampa, there are substantial liaison offices from more than 50 countries — allies that are working with the U.S. to deal with Iraq, Afghanistan, Somali piracy and other issues. Since 9/11, an entire “coalition village” has sprung up around Centcom headquarters. There is nothing comparable at Camp Smith. In fact, when I asked about coalition representation, I was told about a handful of low-ranking liaison officers from Australia and a few other nations.

This would seem to be an obvious opportunity we are not taking advantage of — to encourage discussion and cooperation among disparate Asian nations hosted by our own regional military command. That would not be as good as a formal alliance structure, but it could represent a small, but useful step, in the right direction.

A common complaint heard among American officials and policy analysts is that in East Asia — one of the most important and conflict-prone areas of the planet — there is no security architecture comparable to NATO. The U.S. has ties to many key countries, notably Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, and Taiwan. But they do not have strong ties to one another, and there is no joint military planning of the kind that NATO undertakes. That does not seem likely to change in the future, because, although all those nations are suspicious of growing Chinese power, they also do not want to antagonize the 500-pound panda by forming an explicit alliance for its containment. The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, formed in 1954, was a colossal failure and is unlikely to be resurrected.

But there are still steps that U.S. officials can take to encourage greater cooperation among our regional partners. In this regard, I was struck a few days ago while visiting Pacific Command headquarters, looked at Camp Smith overlooking Pearl Harbor, by the near-total absence of coalition allies. At Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Base in Tampa, there are substantial liaison offices from more than 50 countries — allies that are working with the U.S. to deal with Iraq, Afghanistan, Somali piracy and other issues. Since 9/11, an entire “coalition village” has sprung up around Centcom headquarters. There is nothing comparable at Camp Smith. In fact, when I asked about coalition representation, I was told about a handful of low-ranking liaison officers from Australia and a few other nations.

This would seem to be an obvious opportunity we are not taking advantage of — to encourage discussion and cooperation among disparate Asian nations hosted by our own regional military command. That would not be as good as a formal alliance structure, but it could represent a small, but useful step, in the right direction.

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Holder on Meet the Press

Eric Holder appeared on Meet the Press. It seems that all that business about the Times Square bomber being a “one-off” incident was, well, wrong:

MR. HOLDER: Well, this is an ongoing investigation, there’s only so much that I can talk about, but I am comfortable in saying that they were involved in what Shahzad tried to do. And I think that’s an indication of the new threat that we face, these terrorist organizations, these affiliates of al-Qaeda or–these organizations are somehow connected to the kinds of things that al-Qaeda wants to do, indicates the worldwide concerns that we have to have if we’re going to be effective.

MR. GREGORY: Well, before I ask you about that changing face of terror, is it a danger when you have officials like Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano saying, at this very table last week, that this appeared to be a one-off attack, or the general of Central Command, David Petraeus saying that Shahzad appeared to be a lone wolf, and now you’re saying no, this was part of a, a Pakistani Taliban plot?

MR. HOLDER: Well, you know, the evidence develops, and I think we have to always try to be careful to make sure that the statements that we make is consistence with the evidence that we have developed. And it certainly looked, I think, at the beginning of this investigation, like it could have been a one-off. Over the course of this week, we’ve developed information, we’ve developed evidence that shows that the involved–shows the involvement of the Pakistani Taliban.

One wonders then why the administration is so quick to rush forth with pronouncements — and to make decisions about the legal status of the terrorist before it has sufficient information to make accurate comments and informed decisions.

Holder also revealed that Shahzad was, in fact, Mirandized, this time after eight hours of questioning. But we certainly didn’t know at the time that he was part of a Taliban plot. Yet we made what is likely an irreversible decision to Mirandize him and charge him in federal court. Nevertheless, after four domestic terror incidents, Holder declares a “new priority” for the administration — to explore greater flexibility in use of the Miranda rule. Good to know all the sneering at conservative critics who have been pounding this issue for months is now inoperative.

And what about KSM? Well, let it not be said that this crowd is giving up easily on a civilian trial. And here Holder is tied up in knots:

MR. GREGORY: So, if he’s acquitted, he would not be released. How is that consistent, Mr. Attorney General, with fairness and justice that you believe in of our system?

MR. HOLDER: Well, he certainly would be provided fairness and justice with regard to the trial that would occur. And with regard to the outcome of that trial, we have–if–and if he were acquitted, what I was trying to say that there are other mechanisms that we have that we might employ, immigration laws that we could use, the possibility of detaining him under the wars of law. There are a variety of things that we can do in order to protect the American people, and that is the thing that I keep uppermost in my mind.

MR. GREGORY: But, but if he’s acquitted and the United States says we will not let him free, then what is the point of having a trial?

MR. HOLDER: Well, there are other charges that are–that could be brought against him in addition to those he would stand accused of with regard to the 9/11 plot. There are a variety of other things that he could be tried for. And I think we can provide him with fairness and with justice in the systems that we now have in place.

MR. GREGORY: But you said, with regard to any KSM trial, failure is not an option, and yet you know full well you send prosecutors into court every day in this country knowing that there is plenty of uncertainty. Paul McNulty, the former deputy attorney general, said earlier this year with regard to the Moussaoui prosecution, he said, “The criminal justice process is not designed to guarantee any particular outcome. If that option (civilian court) is followed, we have to accept that it is unpredictable.” A trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court is unpredictable, isn’t it?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I’m confident that if we try him in a civilian court, given the evidence that we have amassed, given the experience of the prosecutors who would try the case, given the skills that they have, that we will stand a very, very good chance of, of convicting him.

MR. GREGORY:  But that’s not what you said.  You said failure is not an option.  You said he will not be released.  And the broader criticism is, of you, that you say you believe in our civilian justice system.  And you said when you became attorney general that “I’m going to stick to those principles even when it’s hard.” And yet, with all the political pressure to be tough on terrorists, you said “I believe in the system” at the same time you appear to be rewriting the rules of that system, which, ultimately, critics say, can undermine the system.  Even with Shahzad, before he was charged, you held a press conference announcing that he had confessed.  Shouldn’t that be a concern to those who work with you and others who believe, as you say you do, in our civilian justice system?

MR. HOLDER:  Well, I believe in the civilian justice system. I have certainly worked all my life in the civilian justice system. I have confidence in the civilian justice system’s ability to handle these new threats that our, our, our country faces with regard to Shahzad, with regard to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I think that we have conducted ourselves in a way that’s consistent with the best that is about our, our, our civilian justice system. I’m not–I don’t think that I have to take back anything that I have said in the past. One of the things that we did with regard to that press conference was to get out there early to assure the American people generally and people in New York specifically that the person we thought was responsible for that attempted bombing was, in fact, in custody.

MR. GREGORY: Will KSM be tried in New York?

MR. HOLDER: We are still in the process of trying to decide where that trial will occur.

MR. GREGORY:  What is the holdup?  Everybody seems to be saying this is a foregone conclusion, it’s never going to New York. Why won’t you say that it won’t be there?

MR. HOLDER: Well, we’re taking a look at all of our options and trying to decide where the case can best be tried. There are federal statutes that we have to deal with that dictate where the case would have to occur if we’re going to seek the death penalty, as I’ve indicated that we will. There are a variety of things that have to be taken into consideration, both–in addition to what I’ve talked about, we also have to take into account what the political leadership in these various jurisdictions wants, what the, what the people in these various. …

MR. GREGORY: New York doesn’t want it. New York doesn’t have the resources for it. You just deployed all these FBI agents to catch Shahzad. What if they had to protect a trial of KSM?  I mean, it’s fairly clear that it doesn’t belong in New York, according to elected officials and other law enforcement officials, and yet there is this basically inaction on this issue of where the trial is. Is this being overly politicized by this administration and by you?

MR. HOLDER: No, it’s not being overly politicized. What we’re trying to do is come up with the best decision that we can. We’re taking our time, we’re considering all of our options. We want to make sure that we put this trial in the place where it can best be held.

They continued in this vein for a while, convincing no one but the most deluded that there was a coherent reason to try KSM in New York.

Holder suggests that this is an administration in transition. It is becoming increasingly untenable to defend a criminal-justice model for fighting Islamic terrorism, and yet the Obama team is reluctant to let go of it. Unfortunately for the leftist ideologues, reality keeps intervening.

Eric Holder appeared on Meet the Press. It seems that all that business about the Times Square bomber being a “one-off” incident was, well, wrong:

MR. HOLDER: Well, this is an ongoing investigation, there’s only so much that I can talk about, but I am comfortable in saying that they were involved in what Shahzad tried to do. And I think that’s an indication of the new threat that we face, these terrorist organizations, these affiliates of al-Qaeda or–these organizations are somehow connected to the kinds of things that al-Qaeda wants to do, indicates the worldwide concerns that we have to have if we’re going to be effective.

MR. GREGORY: Well, before I ask you about that changing face of terror, is it a danger when you have officials like Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano saying, at this very table last week, that this appeared to be a one-off attack, or the general of Central Command, David Petraeus saying that Shahzad appeared to be a lone wolf, and now you’re saying no, this was part of a, a Pakistani Taliban plot?

MR. HOLDER: Well, you know, the evidence develops, and I think we have to always try to be careful to make sure that the statements that we make is consistence with the evidence that we have developed. And it certainly looked, I think, at the beginning of this investigation, like it could have been a one-off. Over the course of this week, we’ve developed information, we’ve developed evidence that shows that the involved–shows the involvement of the Pakistani Taliban.

One wonders then why the administration is so quick to rush forth with pronouncements — and to make decisions about the legal status of the terrorist before it has sufficient information to make accurate comments and informed decisions.

Holder also revealed that Shahzad was, in fact, Mirandized, this time after eight hours of questioning. But we certainly didn’t know at the time that he was part of a Taliban plot. Yet we made what is likely an irreversible decision to Mirandize him and charge him in federal court. Nevertheless, after four domestic terror incidents, Holder declares a “new priority” for the administration — to explore greater flexibility in use of the Miranda rule. Good to know all the sneering at conservative critics who have been pounding this issue for months is now inoperative.

And what about KSM? Well, let it not be said that this crowd is giving up easily on a civilian trial. And here Holder is tied up in knots:

MR. GREGORY: So, if he’s acquitted, he would not be released. How is that consistent, Mr. Attorney General, with fairness and justice that you believe in of our system?

MR. HOLDER: Well, he certainly would be provided fairness and justice with regard to the trial that would occur. And with regard to the outcome of that trial, we have–if–and if he were acquitted, what I was trying to say that there are other mechanisms that we have that we might employ, immigration laws that we could use, the possibility of detaining him under the wars of law. There are a variety of things that we can do in order to protect the American people, and that is the thing that I keep uppermost in my mind.

MR. GREGORY: But, but if he’s acquitted and the United States says we will not let him free, then what is the point of having a trial?

MR. HOLDER: Well, there are other charges that are–that could be brought against him in addition to those he would stand accused of with regard to the 9/11 plot. There are a variety of other things that he could be tried for. And I think we can provide him with fairness and with justice in the systems that we now have in place.

MR. GREGORY: But you said, with regard to any KSM trial, failure is not an option, and yet you know full well you send prosecutors into court every day in this country knowing that there is plenty of uncertainty. Paul McNulty, the former deputy attorney general, said earlier this year with regard to the Moussaoui prosecution, he said, “The criminal justice process is not designed to guarantee any particular outcome. If that option (civilian court) is followed, we have to accept that it is unpredictable.” A trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court is unpredictable, isn’t it?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I’m confident that if we try him in a civilian court, given the evidence that we have amassed, given the experience of the prosecutors who would try the case, given the skills that they have, that we will stand a very, very good chance of, of convicting him.

MR. GREGORY:  But that’s not what you said.  You said failure is not an option.  You said he will not be released.  And the broader criticism is, of you, that you say you believe in our civilian justice system.  And you said when you became attorney general that “I’m going to stick to those principles even when it’s hard.” And yet, with all the political pressure to be tough on terrorists, you said “I believe in the system” at the same time you appear to be rewriting the rules of that system, which, ultimately, critics say, can undermine the system.  Even with Shahzad, before he was charged, you held a press conference announcing that he had confessed.  Shouldn’t that be a concern to those who work with you and others who believe, as you say you do, in our civilian justice system?

MR. HOLDER:  Well, I believe in the civilian justice system. I have certainly worked all my life in the civilian justice system. I have confidence in the civilian justice system’s ability to handle these new threats that our, our, our country faces with regard to Shahzad, with regard to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I think that we have conducted ourselves in a way that’s consistent with the best that is about our, our, our civilian justice system. I’m not–I don’t think that I have to take back anything that I have said in the past. One of the things that we did with regard to that press conference was to get out there early to assure the American people generally and people in New York specifically that the person we thought was responsible for that attempted bombing was, in fact, in custody.

MR. GREGORY: Will KSM be tried in New York?

MR. HOLDER: We are still in the process of trying to decide where that trial will occur.

MR. GREGORY:  What is the holdup?  Everybody seems to be saying this is a foregone conclusion, it’s never going to New York. Why won’t you say that it won’t be there?

MR. HOLDER: Well, we’re taking a look at all of our options and trying to decide where the case can best be tried. There are federal statutes that we have to deal with that dictate where the case would have to occur if we’re going to seek the death penalty, as I’ve indicated that we will. There are a variety of things that have to be taken into consideration, both–in addition to what I’ve talked about, we also have to take into account what the political leadership in these various jurisdictions wants, what the, what the people in these various. …

MR. GREGORY: New York doesn’t want it. New York doesn’t have the resources for it. You just deployed all these FBI agents to catch Shahzad. What if they had to protect a trial of KSM?  I mean, it’s fairly clear that it doesn’t belong in New York, according to elected officials and other law enforcement officials, and yet there is this basically inaction on this issue of where the trial is. Is this being overly politicized by this administration and by you?

MR. HOLDER: No, it’s not being overly politicized. What we’re trying to do is come up with the best decision that we can. We’re taking our time, we’re considering all of our options. We want to make sure that we put this trial in the place where it can best be held.

They continued in this vein for a while, convincing no one but the most deluded that there was a coherent reason to try KSM in New York.

Holder suggests that this is an administration in transition. It is becoming increasingly untenable to defend a criminal-justice model for fighting Islamic terrorism, and yet the Obama team is reluctant to let go of it. Unfortunately for the leftist ideologues, reality keeps intervening.

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Jim Mattis: Unsung General

Slate has a great interview with Jim Mattis, one of our great unsung generals. I first met him in Iraq in 2003 when he was commanding the 1st Marine Division in the south. It was also on this trip that I met another two-star general named David Petraeus who was commanding the 101st Airborne Division in the north. Petraeus has since become world famous — and for good reason. Mattis isn’t as well known, although he’s also a four-star general. But he isn’t in charge of Central Command, Iraq, or Afghanistan — the most high-profile operational commands a military officer can have today. Instead he runs the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which is charged with preparing troops for deployment, for enhancing joint operations between the services, and for shaping the doctrine and training of the armed forces. (Full disclosure: I serve on a civilian advisory board at JFCOM.) In that position he has been grappling with some of the most basic challenges confronting the United States as it seeks to preserve its power and influence in the 21st century.

You can see some of the results in this thoughtful document: the “Joint Operating Environment 2010.” For more of a flavor of Mattis the man, read John Dickerson’s profile in Slate. Mattis, like Petraeus, has an unusual gift: He is both a deep thinker and a decisive battlefield commander. He is a soldier who is engrossed in military history but, even as a general, doesn’t hesitate to plunge into the middle of a firefight.

The U.S. Armed Forces can ill afford to lose Mattis, who is due to retire later this year. (It has been reported that he will be succeeded at JFCOM by the outstanding Ray Odierno, fresh off his stint as the top commander in Iraq.)

Slate has a great interview with Jim Mattis, one of our great unsung generals. I first met him in Iraq in 2003 when he was commanding the 1st Marine Division in the south. It was also on this trip that I met another two-star general named David Petraeus who was commanding the 101st Airborne Division in the north. Petraeus has since become world famous — and for good reason. Mattis isn’t as well known, although he’s also a four-star general. But he isn’t in charge of Central Command, Iraq, or Afghanistan — the most high-profile operational commands a military officer can have today. Instead he runs the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which is charged with preparing troops for deployment, for enhancing joint operations between the services, and for shaping the doctrine and training of the armed forces. (Full disclosure: I serve on a civilian advisory board at JFCOM.) In that position he has been grappling with some of the most basic challenges confronting the United States as it seeks to preserve its power and influence in the 21st century.

You can see some of the results in this thoughtful document: the “Joint Operating Environment 2010.” For more of a flavor of Mattis the man, read John Dickerson’s profile in Slate. Mattis, like Petraeus, has an unusual gift: He is both a deep thinker and a decisive battlefield commander. He is a soldier who is engrossed in military history but, even as a general, doesn’t hesitate to plunge into the middle of a firefight.

The U.S. Armed Forces can ill afford to lose Mattis, who is due to retire later this year. (It has been reported that he will be succeeded at JFCOM by the outstanding Ray Odierno, fresh off his stint as the top commander in Iraq.)

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Petraeus, Israel, and Facts Not in Evidence

Andy McCarthy is a great prosecutor — and a great writer on subjects related to the legal treatment of terrorists. But I fear he is misguided in his critique of American counterinsurgency strategy, which has been so effective in Iraq and can be effective again in Afghanistan, and in his larger contempt for what he calls (with mocking capitalizations) the “Islamic Democracy Project.”

Personally I side with President Bush, who realized that we had no choice but to shake up the sclerotic Middle East in our own interest. I have been greatly encouraged to see how nascent democracy has begun to take hold in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, in Afghanistan; I see very little evidence that, as McCarthy has it, “we are building sharia states hostile to American interests.”

But rather than debate our broader Middle East policy with McCarthy, I want to offer a short comment on his attempt to attack General David Petraeus for the canard — which I thought I and others had already shot down — that the general is somehow anti-Israel. In National Review, McCarthy writes in high dudgeon about a “surpassingly foolish statement in which Gen. David Petraeus cast Israel as the source of all America’s woes in the Middle East.”

His basis for this claim is an already discredited blog item by terrorist groupie Mark Perry. But McCarthy claims not to be convinced by Petraeus’s statements that he didn’t say what Perry claims he said. He insists that I am spinning away Petraeus’s true views, which are exposed on page 12 of the Central Command “posture statement” submitted to Congress. That statement lists 11 “cross-cutting challenges to security and stability,” including “insufficient progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace.”

There is one whole paragraph on Israel in this 56-page report, and here is what it has to say in its entirety:

The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.

That’s it. Even if you discount everything that Petraeus has publicly said on the topic, and you look simply at the text of this statement, I am puzzled to see how McCarthy can infer that Petraeus “cast Israel as the source of all America’s woes in the Middle East.” The statement does not blame Israel for the lack of progress on peace negotiations, much less for “all America’s woes” in the region. It simply doesn’t. Suggesting it does is to assume — as the lawyers like to say — “facts not in evidence.”

Andy McCarthy is a great prosecutor — and a great writer on subjects related to the legal treatment of terrorists. But I fear he is misguided in his critique of American counterinsurgency strategy, which has been so effective in Iraq and can be effective again in Afghanistan, and in his larger contempt for what he calls (with mocking capitalizations) the “Islamic Democracy Project.”

Personally I side with President Bush, who realized that we had no choice but to shake up the sclerotic Middle East in our own interest. I have been greatly encouraged to see how nascent democracy has begun to take hold in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, in Afghanistan; I see very little evidence that, as McCarthy has it, “we are building sharia states hostile to American interests.”

But rather than debate our broader Middle East policy with McCarthy, I want to offer a short comment on his attempt to attack General David Petraeus for the canard — which I thought I and others had already shot down — that the general is somehow anti-Israel. In National Review, McCarthy writes in high dudgeon about a “surpassingly foolish statement in which Gen. David Petraeus cast Israel as the source of all America’s woes in the Middle East.”

His basis for this claim is an already discredited blog item by terrorist groupie Mark Perry. But McCarthy claims not to be convinced by Petraeus’s statements that he didn’t say what Perry claims he said. He insists that I am spinning away Petraeus’s true views, which are exposed on page 12 of the Central Command “posture statement” submitted to Congress. That statement lists 11 “cross-cutting challenges to security and stability,” including “insufficient progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace.”

There is one whole paragraph on Israel in this 56-page report, and here is what it has to say in its entirety:

The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.

That’s it. Even if you discount everything that Petraeus has publicly said on the topic, and you look simply at the text of this statement, I am puzzled to see how McCarthy can infer that Petraeus “cast Israel as the source of all America’s woes in the Middle East.” The statement does not blame Israel for the lack of progress on peace negotiations, much less for “all America’s woes” in the region. It simply doesn’t. Suggesting it does is to assume — as the lawyers like to say — “facts not in evidence.”

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From the Horse’s Mouth: Petraeus on Israel

Back on March 13, terrorist groupie Mark Perry — a former Arafat aide who now pals around with Hamas and Hezbollah — posted an article on Foreign Policy’s website, claiming that General David Petraeus was behind the administration’s policy of getting tough with Israel. He attributed to Petraeus the view that “Israel’s intransigence” — meaning its unwillingness to give up every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem tomorrow — “could cost American lives.” His item received wide circulation though it may be doubted whether, as he now says, “It changed the way people think about the conflict.”

I tried to set the record straight with two Commentary items (see here and here) in which I suggested, based on talking to an officer familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, that Perry’s item was a gross distortion —in fact a fraud. I noted that in Petraeus’s view, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was only one factor among many affecting U.S. interests in the region and that Israeli settlements were far from the only, or even the main, obstacle to peace. I even suggested — again, based on inside information — that the 56-page posture statement that Central Command had submitted to Congress, which stated that the Arab-Israeli conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” was not the best indicator of his thinking. Better to look at what he actually told Congress — in a hearing he barely mentioned Israel (until prompted to do so) and never talked about settlements at all.

This brought hoots of derision from commentators on both the Left and the Right, who claimed that I was putting words into Petraeus’s mouth — that I was, in Joe Klein’s phrase, taking a “flying leap.” Predictably piling on were Andrew Sullivan, who said I was “glossing over” what Petraeus said, and Robert Wright, who claimed that, “by Boot’s lights, Petraeus is anti-Israel.” Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”

So who was off-base here: those of us who tried to explain the nuances of General Petraeus’s thinking or those bloggers and commentators who tried to suggest that he is a strident critic of Israel?

The answer has now been publicly provided by Petraeus himself in a speech in New Hampshire. Watch it for yourself. A good summary is provided by the American Spectator’s Philip Klein, who was present at the event and asked Petraeus to clarify his thinking.

The general said that it was “unhelpful” that “bloggers” had “picked … up” what he had said and “spun it.” He noted that, aside from Israel’s actions, there are many other important factors standing in the way of peace, including “a whole bunch of extremist organizations, some of which by the way deny Israel’s right to exist. There’s a country that has a nuclear program who denies that the Holocaust took place. So again we have all these factors in there. This [Israel] is just one.”

What about Perry’s claim that American support for Israel puts our soldiers at risk? Petraeus said, “There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all.”

He concluded by noting that he had sent to General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the “blog by Max Boot” which, he said, had “picked apart this whole thing, as he typically does, pretty astutely.”

I hope Petraeus’s comments will put an end to this whole weird episode. Those who are either happy or unhappy about the administration’s approach to Israel should lodge their compliments or complaints where they belong — at the White House, not at Central Command.

Back on March 13, terrorist groupie Mark Perry — a former Arafat aide who now pals around with Hamas and Hezbollah — posted an article on Foreign Policy’s website, claiming that General David Petraeus was behind the administration’s policy of getting tough with Israel. He attributed to Petraeus the view that “Israel’s intransigence” — meaning its unwillingness to give up every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem tomorrow — “could cost American lives.” His item received wide circulation though it may be doubted whether, as he now says, “It changed the way people think about the conflict.”

I tried to set the record straight with two Commentary items (see here and here) in which I suggested, based on talking to an officer familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, that Perry’s item was a gross distortion —in fact a fraud. I noted that in Petraeus’s view, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was only one factor among many affecting U.S. interests in the region and that Israeli settlements were far from the only, or even the main, obstacle to peace. I even suggested — again, based on inside information — that the 56-page posture statement that Central Command had submitted to Congress, which stated that the Arab-Israeli conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” was not the best indicator of his thinking. Better to look at what he actually told Congress — in a hearing he barely mentioned Israel (until prompted to do so) and never talked about settlements at all.

This brought hoots of derision from commentators on both the Left and the Right, who claimed that I was putting words into Petraeus’s mouth — that I was, in Joe Klein’s phrase, taking a “flying leap.” Predictably piling on were Andrew Sullivan, who said I was “glossing over” what Petraeus said, and Robert Wright, who claimed that, “by Boot’s lights, Petraeus is anti-Israel.” Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”

So who was off-base here: those of us who tried to explain the nuances of General Petraeus’s thinking or those bloggers and commentators who tried to suggest that he is a strident critic of Israel?

The answer has now been publicly provided by Petraeus himself in a speech in New Hampshire. Watch it for yourself. A good summary is provided by the American Spectator’s Philip Klein, who was present at the event and asked Petraeus to clarify his thinking.

The general said that it was “unhelpful” that “bloggers” had “picked … up” what he had said and “spun it.” He noted that, aside from Israel’s actions, there are many other important factors standing in the way of peace, including “a whole bunch of extremist organizations, some of which by the way deny Israel’s right to exist. There’s a country that has a nuclear program who denies that the Holocaust took place. So again we have all these factors in there. This [Israel] is just one.”

What about Perry’s claim that American support for Israel puts our soldiers at risk? Petraeus said, “There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all.”

He concluded by noting that he had sent to General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the “blog by Max Boot” which, he said, had “picked apart this whole thing, as he typically does, pretty astutely.”

I hope Petraeus’s comments will put an end to this whole weird episode. Those who are either happy or unhappy about the administration’s approach to Israel should lodge their compliments or complaints where they belong — at the White House, not at Central Command.

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A Lie: David Petraeus, Anti-Israel

Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” As if to illustrate the point, consider the misleading commentary that continues to emerge, attributing anti-Israeli sentiment to Gen. David Petraeus. I already knocked down one fallacious Web item written by terrorist groupie Mark Perry on Foreign Policy’s web site. The meme has also been refuted by other Foreign Policy contributors.

But Media Matters, the far-Left activist group founded by David Brock, continues to peddle this twaddle. Its website proclaims: “On The Middle East: It’s Palin vs. Petraeus & New Poll.” They quote statements made by Sarah Palin supportive of Israel and critical of the Obama administration’s attempts to pressure Israel on West Bank settlements and then gleefully proclaim: “But that isn’t how Petraeus sees it.” The item goes on:

Speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian issue before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Petraeus said:

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests… Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas….”

Actually, that’s not what Petraeus said. Rather, it’s pulled from the 56-page Central Command “Posture Statement” filed by his staff with the Senate Armed Services Committee. A better indication of what is on the general’s mind is what he actually said. If you check the transcript of the hearing (available on Federal News Service) you will find that he doesn’t mention Israel or its settlements in his opening statement, which provides an overview of the most pressing issues that he sees affecting his Area of Responsibility. He talks about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, information operations, and cyberspace — but not Israel. The only time Israel came up was when Senator McCain asked Petraeus for his views. Here is what Petraeus said, in its entirety:

We keep a very close eye on what goes on there [in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip], because of the impact that it has, obviously, on that part of CENTCOM that is the Arab world, if you will. And in fact, we’ve urged at various times that this is a critical component. It’s one reason, again, we invite Senator Mitchell to brief all of the different conferences that we host, and seek to support him in any way that we can when he’s in the Central Command part of the region, just as we support Lieutenant General Dayton, who is supporting the training of the Palestinian security forces from a location that is in the CENTCOM AOR as well.

And in fact, although some staff members have, various times, and I have discussed and — you know, asking for the Palestinian territories or something like that to be added to — we have never — I have never made that a formal recommendation for the Unified Command Plan, and that was not in what I submitted this year. Nor have I sent a memo to the White House on any of this — which some of this was in the press, so I welcome the opportunity to point that out.

Again, clearly, the tensions, the issues and so forth have an enormous effect. They set the strategic context within which we operate in the Central Command area of responsibility. My thrust has generally been, literally, just to say — to encourage that process that can indeed get that recognition that you talked about, and indeed get a sense of progress moving forward in the overall peace process, because of the effect that it has on particularly what I think you would term the moderate governments in our area. And that really is about the extent of our involvement in that, Senator.

So there you have it. General Petraeus obviously doesn’t see the Israeli-Arab “peace process” as a top issue for his command, because he didn’t even raise it in his opening statement. When he was pressed on it, he made a fairly anodyne statement about the need to encourage negotiations to help moderate Arab regimes. That’s it. He didn’t say that all settlements had to be stopped or that Israel is to blame for the lack of progress in negotiations. And he definitely didn’t say that the administration should engineer a crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations in order to end the construction of new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem. In fact, his view, as I mentioned in my earlier post, is that settlements are only “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

I doubt that Sarah Palin would disagree.

Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” As if to illustrate the point, consider the misleading commentary that continues to emerge, attributing anti-Israeli sentiment to Gen. David Petraeus. I already knocked down one fallacious Web item written by terrorist groupie Mark Perry on Foreign Policy’s web site. The meme has also been refuted by other Foreign Policy contributors.

But Media Matters, the far-Left activist group founded by David Brock, continues to peddle this twaddle. Its website proclaims: “On The Middle East: It’s Palin vs. Petraeus & New Poll.” They quote statements made by Sarah Palin supportive of Israel and critical of the Obama administration’s attempts to pressure Israel on West Bank settlements and then gleefully proclaim: “But that isn’t how Petraeus sees it.” The item goes on:

Speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian issue before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Petraeus said:

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests… Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas….”

Actually, that’s not what Petraeus said. Rather, it’s pulled from the 56-page Central Command “Posture Statement” filed by his staff with the Senate Armed Services Committee. A better indication of what is on the general’s mind is what he actually said. If you check the transcript of the hearing (available on Federal News Service) you will find that he doesn’t mention Israel or its settlements in his opening statement, which provides an overview of the most pressing issues that he sees affecting his Area of Responsibility. He talks about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, information operations, and cyberspace — but not Israel. The only time Israel came up was when Senator McCain asked Petraeus for his views. Here is what Petraeus said, in its entirety:

We keep a very close eye on what goes on there [in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip], because of the impact that it has, obviously, on that part of CENTCOM that is the Arab world, if you will. And in fact, we’ve urged at various times that this is a critical component. It’s one reason, again, we invite Senator Mitchell to brief all of the different conferences that we host, and seek to support him in any way that we can when he’s in the Central Command part of the region, just as we support Lieutenant General Dayton, who is supporting the training of the Palestinian security forces from a location that is in the CENTCOM AOR as well.

And in fact, although some staff members have, various times, and I have discussed and — you know, asking for the Palestinian territories or something like that to be added to — we have never — I have never made that a formal recommendation for the Unified Command Plan, and that was not in what I submitted this year. Nor have I sent a memo to the White House on any of this — which some of this was in the press, so I welcome the opportunity to point that out.

Again, clearly, the tensions, the issues and so forth have an enormous effect. They set the strategic context within which we operate in the Central Command area of responsibility. My thrust has generally been, literally, just to say — to encourage that process that can indeed get that recognition that you talked about, and indeed get a sense of progress moving forward in the overall peace process, because of the effect that it has on particularly what I think you would term the moderate governments in our area. And that really is about the extent of our involvement in that, Senator.

So there you have it. General Petraeus obviously doesn’t see the Israeli-Arab “peace process” as a top issue for his command, because he didn’t even raise it in his opening statement. When he was pressed on it, he made a fairly anodyne statement about the need to encourage negotiations to help moderate Arab regimes. That’s it. He didn’t say that all settlements had to be stopped or that Israel is to blame for the lack of progress in negotiations. And he definitely didn’t say that the administration should engineer a crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations in order to end the construction of new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem. In fact, his view, as I mentioned in my earlier post, is that settlements are only “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

I doubt that Sarah Palin would disagree.

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Hooligans, an Ambassador, and a General

As a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (class of ’91), a.k.a Berzerkely, I am by now fairly inured to displays of political correctness — the totalitarian impulse in action — on campus. I saw enough demonstrations — including one that turned into an actual riot with the burning of cars and the looting of stores on Telegraph Avenue — not to be shocked by most of what goes on in our citadels of higher learning. But I admit I am still deeply dismayed to see the treatment accorded in recent weeks to two of the people I most admire in this world — Michael Oren, the noted historian and Israeli combat veteran who is now Israel’s ambassador to Washington, and General David Petraeus, head of Central Command.

Oren spoke at the University of California, Irvine; Petraeus, at Georgetown. Both are unusually thoughtful individuals who are happy to engage in a civilized debate with just about anyone. But what greeted them was hardly civilized. Both speeches were thoroughly disrupted by hecklers — in the former instance, by members of the Muslim Student Union who are presumably opposed to Israel’s very existence (at least, judging by the rally they held afterward, chanting “anti-Israel, anti-Israel”), in the latter instance, by opponents of the war in Iraq, who loudly tried to read the names of Iraq War dead. You can see the videos here — for Georgetown and Irvine.

The demonstration at Georgetown was particularly disturbing in light of the common trope heard among the anti-war movement that they “oppose the war but support the soldiers waging the war.” In this case, their disrespect for our greatest general — a man who has repeatedly risked his life in the country’s service and whose son is now putting his own life on the line as a young officer — gives the lie to the slogan.

I can only hope that the universities in question take appropriate steps to deal with these campus hooligans. Anything short of expulsion, or at least suspension, would seem to be a wrist-slap that will only encourage more such misconduct in the future and make a mockery of the free speech that universities are supposed to champion.

As a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (class of ’91), a.k.a Berzerkely, I am by now fairly inured to displays of political correctness — the totalitarian impulse in action — on campus. I saw enough demonstrations — including one that turned into an actual riot with the burning of cars and the looting of stores on Telegraph Avenue — not to be shocked by most of what goes on in our citadels of higher learning. But I admit I am still deeply dismayed to see the treatment accorded in recent weeks to two of the people I most admire in this world — Michael Oren, the noted historian and Israeli combat veteran who is now Israel’s ambassador to Washington, and General David Petraeus, head of Central Command.

Oren spoke at the University of California, Irvine; Petraeus, at Georgetown. Both are unusually thoughtful individuals who are happy to engage in a civilized debate with just about anyone. But what greeted them was hardly civilized. Both speeches were thoroughly disrupted by hecklers — in the former instance, by members of the Muslim Student Union who are presumably opposed to Israel’s very existence (at least, judging by the rally they held afterward, chanting “anti-Israel, anti-Israel”), in the latter instance, by opponents of the war in Iraq, who loudly tried to read the names of Iraq War dead. You can see the videos here — for Georgetown and Irvine.

The demonstration at Georgetown was particularly disturbing in light of the common trope heard among the anti-war movement that they “oppose the war but support the soldiers waging the war.” In this case, their disrespect for our greatest general — a man who has repeatedly risked his life in the country’s service and whose son is now putting his own life on the line as a young officer — gives the lie to the slogan.

I can only hope that the universities in question take appropriate steps to deal with these campus hooligans. Anything short of expulsion, or at least suspension, would seem to be a wrist-slap that will only encourage more such misconduct in the future and make a mockery of the free speech that universities are supposed to champion.

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Law Versus Proportion (and Plain Sense)

The Special Operations Commander for Central Command (SOCCENT) has a truly distasteful situation to steer through. The man in question, Army Major General Charles Cleveland, has brought charges against three Navy SEALs who seized a notorious Iraqi terrorist in September. The terrorist, Ahmed Hashim Abed, was behind the brutal murder of American civilian security guards in Fallujah in 2004. Producing a “fat lip” as evidence, he complained to Iraqi authorities that he had been roughed up by the SEALs. Military investigation of the incident produced the charges.

The blogosphere is thundering with justifiable indignation over this, and some perspective may be useful. It is, first of all, superficial to characterize the military’s motive for charging the SEALs as “political correctness,” an analysis that implies a self-conscious rejection of common sense and reality to avoid political retribution or to reap political reward. There is a deeper and genuine conflict at work here, between the rule of law, applied with meticulous honesty, and our sense of proportion and decency. This is a recurring conflict in all civilized societies: there are times when no reasonable man thinks the punishment fits the crime, even when there is little disagreement that a crime as defined by law has been committed.

The plain fact is that according to U.S. national policy, enforced by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, it is a felony-level crime for our soldiers to give detainees bloody lips in the gratuitous manner with which the SEALs are charged. That policy itself may well be an exercise in political correctness, but carrying it out is merely the enforcement of discipline.

The convening authority would not bring charges unless his legal advisers thought there was enough evidence for conviction. Much as I think he would hate to, my guess is that General Cleveland has preferred charges because, by the letter of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the case merits prosecution. We mustn’t dismiss as irrelevant the paramount imperative of discipline in military operations. If the SEALs did beat Abed unnecessarily, the point for the military is not that Abed got a fat lip but that the SEALs breached discipline — and that is even more intolerable in Special Ops than in other branches. Indiscipline gets friendly forces killed and jeopardizes crucial missions.

The SEALs, all enlisted petty officers, have done what they can to obtain a just outcome. They were originally offered “non-judicial punishment,” a summary proceeding in which their commander could have administered, essentially, only a wrist-slap. But in their “zero-defect” community, a wrist-slap ends the hope of promotion. As is their right under the UCMJ, they chose court-martial instead, which will entail airing evidence before a military jury. Their preference here is almost certainly not a calculation but a belief: a belief in the intrinsically just character of their fellows in uniform.

I hope the SEALs are acquitted. That would be the just outcome. For a breach of discipline on the order implied here, the commonsense remedy is for the commander to put his men at attention, yell at them for half an hour, deny them some liberty, and give them some extra duty. But our national policy dictates another, disproportionate approach. I’m not sure how a civilized society avoids such confrontations entirely, but I will say this: juries have rescued the accused from the law before, and if anything will accomplish that for the SEALs, it’s a panel of their comrades in arms.

The Special Operations Commander for Central Command (SOCCENT) has a truly distasteful situation to steer through. The man in question, Army Major General Charles Cleveland, has brought charges against three Navy SEALs who seized a notorious Iraqi terrorist in September. The terrorist, Ahmed Hashim Abed, was behind the brutal murder of American civilian security guards in Fallujah in 2004. Producing a “fat lip” as evidence, he complained to Iraqi authorities that he had been roughed up by the SEALs. Military investigation of the incident produced the charges.

The blogosphere is thundering with justifiable indignation over this, and some perspective may be useful. It is, first of all, superficial to characterize the military’s motive for charging the SEALs as “political correctness,” an analysis that implies a self-conscious rejection of common sense and reality to avoid political retribution or to reap political reward. There is a deeper and genuine conflict at work here, between the rule of law, applied with meticulous honesty, and our sense of proportion and decency. This is a recurring conflict in all civilized societies: there are times when no reasonable man thinks the punishment fits the crime, even when there is little disagreement that a crime as defined by law has been committed.

The plain fact is that according to U.S. national policy, enforced by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, it is a felony-level crime for our soldiers to give detainees bloody lips in the gratuitous manner with which the SEALs are charged. That policy itself may well be an exercise in political correctness, but carrying it out is merely the enforcement of discipline.

The convening authority would not bring charges unless his legal advisers thought there was enough evidence for conviction. Much as I think he would hate to, my guess is that General Cleveland has preferred charges because, by the letter of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the case merits prosecution. We mustn’t dismiss as irrelevant the paramount imperative of discipline in military operations. If the SEALs did beat Abed unnecessarily, the point for the military is not that Abed got a fat lip but that the SEALs breached discipline — and that is even more intolerable in Special Ops than in other branches. Indiscipline gets friendly forces killed and jeopardizes crucial missions.

The SEALs, all enlisted petty officers, have done what they can to obtain a just outcome. They were originally offered “non-judicial punishment,” a summary proceeding in which their commander could have administered, essentially, only a wrist-slap. But in their “zero-defect” community, a wrist-slap ends the hope of promotion. As is their right under the UCMJ, they chose court-martial instead, which will entail airing evidence before a military jury. Their preference here is almost certainly not a calculation but a belief: a belief in the intrinsically just character of their fellows in uniform.

I hope the SEALs are acquitted. That would be the just outcome. For a breach of discipline on the order implied here, the commonsense remedy is for the commander to put his men at attention, yell at them for half an hour, deny them some liberty, and give them some extra duty. But our national policy dictates another, disproportionate approach. I’m not sure how a civilized society avoids such confrontations entirely, but I will say this: juries have rescued the accused from the law before, and if anything will accomplish that for the SEALs, it’s a panel of their comrades in arms.

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Afghan Additions

News that the Pentagon is planning to add two more brigades (roughly 7,000 troops) in Afghanistan is welcome. It has been clear for a while that NATO didn’t have enough troops in the south to control a resurgent Taliban operating from secure areas in Pakistan. As the New York Times notes: “There are about 62,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, about 34,000 of them American, up from just 25,000 American troops in 2005.” The U.S. has been pressing our allies to do more, but so far our requests have not produced much–certainly not enough. The U.S. has already sent roughly 3,000 marines on a six-month assignment. More troops should be sent when they leave later this year.

It’s not only a question of more troops. Allied forces also aren’t as useful as they could be because they come with so many operational restrictions. The Dutch, Canadians, British, and Australians have been fighting hard in southern Afghanistan, but many others (e.g., the Germans) are prevented by their home governments from going in harm’s way. Even those NATO troops that are willing to fight don’t necessarily have the training or equipment needed to tackle a tough counterinsurgency. They lack, for instance, the CERP funds that U.S. troops are able to dole out in Iraq and Afghanistan to win friends. Also lacking are surveillance assets, airpower, and other “enablers” that the American armed forces have but most of our allies don’t. American and NATO officials have spent years cajoling European allies to send more of these critical systems (e.g., helicopters), but they have largely come up dry.

There is also a desperate need to increase the Afghan National Army from its current size of only 55,000. (Iraq’s army is 200,000-strong, and Afghanistan is bigger than Iraq.) Washington and Kabul asked NATO to pay for a substantial upgrade, but the members deferred the issue at their recent Bucharest summit, meaning in all likelihood that the U.S. will have to pay the lion’s share of the cost.

More broadly what is needed is a campaign plan and a command structure that can better coordinate disparate national elements to wage a cohesive counterinsurgency. That is something that General David Petraeus did as one of his first steps upon arriving in Iraq in 2007, and it sure to be a priority for him when he takes over Central Command, which shares responsibility for Afghanistan along with the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.

Bret Stephens is right that “We’re Not Losing Afghanistan,” but there is no question that in the south, the situation has deteriorated in the past couple of years. The U.S. will have to make a greater effort to rescue the situation whether our allies are willing to do more or not. But it would certainly be nice if they stepped up their game, especially since the U.S. is carrying an even bigger load in Iraq.

News that the Pentagon is planning to add two more brigades (roughly 7,000 troops) in Afghanistan is welcome. It has been clear for a while that NATO didn’t have enough troops in the south to control a resurgent Taliban operating from secure areas in Pakistan. As the New York Times notes: “There are about 62,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, about 34,000 of them American, up from just 25,000 American troops in 2005.” The U.S. has been pressing our allies to do more, but so far our requests have not produced much–certainly not enough. The U.S. has already sent roughly 3,000 marines on a six-month assignment. More troops should be sent when they leave later this year.

It’s not only a question of more troops. Allied forces also aren’t as useful as they could be because they come with so many operational restrictions. The Dutch, Canadians, British, and Australians have been fighting hard in southern Afghanistan, but many others (e.g., the Germans) are prevented by their home governments from going in harm’s way. Even those NATO troops that are willing to fight don’t necessarily have the training or equipment needed to tackle a tough counterinsurgency. They lack, for instance, the CERP funds that U.S. troops are able to dole out in Iraq and Afghanistan to win friends. Also lacking are surveillance assets, airpower, and other “enablers” that the American armed forces have but most of our allies don’t. American and NATO officials have spent years cajoling European allies to send more of these critical systems (e.g., helicopters), but they have largely come up dry.

There is also a desperate need to increase the Afghan National Army from its current size of only 55,000. (Iraq’s army is 200,000-strong, and Afghanistan is bigger than Iraq.) Washington and Kabul asked NATO to pay for a substantial upgrade, but the members deferred the issue at their recent Bucharest summit, meaning in all likelihood that the U.S. will have to pay the lion’s share of the cost.

More broadly what is needed is a campaign plan and a command structure that can better coordinate disparate national elements to wage a cohesive counterinsurgency. That is something that General David Petraeus did as one of his first steps upon arriving in Iraq in 2007, and it sure to be a priority for him when he takes over Central Command, which shares responsibility for Afghanistan along with the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.

Bret Stephens is right that “We’re Not Losing Afghanistan,” but there is no question that in the south, the situation has deteriorated in the past couple of years. The U.S. will have to make a greater effort to rescue the situation whether our allies are willing to do more or not. But it would certainly be nice if they stepped up their game, especially since the U.S. is carrying an even bigger load in Iraq.

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Bob Gates on Dissent

If you’re wondering why Admiral Fox Fallon had to step down as Commander of Central Command, it’s worth reading the speech that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates delivered at West Point on April 21. Gates never once mentioned Fallon’s name, but the testy admiral’s shadow loomed over his remarks on the role of dissent within the military chain of command.

He urged the cadets to tell the truth, even if it hurts: “if as an officer–listen to me very carefully–if as an officer you don’t tell blunt truths or create an environment where candor is encouraged, then you’ve done yourself and the institution a disservice.” But he also argued that, after an officer has had a chance to vent his disagreement, he must still carry out his orders, whether he likes them or not. In this regard, Gates cited the canonic example of George C. Marshall.

In 1940, he noted, “Marshall believed that rearming America should come first. Roosevelt overruled Marshall and others, and came down on what most historians believe is the correct decision–to do what was necessary to keep England alive.”

He went on:

The significant thing is what did not happen next. There was a powerful domestic constituency for Marshall’s position among a whole host of newspapers and congressmen and lobbies, and yet Marshall did not exploit and use them. There were no overtures to friendly congressional committee chairmen, no leaks to sympathetic reporters, no ghostwritten editorials in newspapers, no coalition-building with advocacy groups. Marshall and his colleagues made the policy work and kept England alive.

Fallon undoubtedly met Gates’s directive “to provide blunt and candid advice always.” But, unlike Marshall, he fell short on two other measures laid out by the defense secretary: “to keep disagreements private” and “to implement faithfully decisions that go against you.”

Fallon was all too public in his differences with regard to administration policy on Iraq, Iran, and the broader Middle East. His downfall came shortly after he bared his thoughts to Thomas P.M. Barnett in Esquire magazine.

Beyond Fallon’s fate, the rules that Gates laid out seem like a very sensible distillation of the proper relationship between officers and their civilian superiors. In some respects the most noteworthy theme he struck was not that dissent can sometimes go too far but that he believes dissent and debate is healthy and should be encouraged–attitudes that, rightly or wrongly, were not seen as hallmarks of Donald Rumsfeld’s days at the Pentagon.

If you’re wondering why Admiral Fox Fallon had to step down as Commander of Central Command, it’s worth reading the speech that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates delivered at West Point on April 21. Gates never once mentioned Fallon’s name, but the testy admiral’s shadow loomed over his remarks on the role of dissent within the military chain of command.

He urged the cadets to tell the truth, even if it hurts: “if as an officer–listen to me very carefully–if as an officer you don’t tell blunt truths or create an environment where candor is encouraged, then you’ve done yourself and the institution a disservice.” But he also argued that, after an officer has had a chance to vent his disagreement, he must still carry out his orders, whether he likes them or not. In this regard, Gates cited the canonic example of George C. Marshall.

In 1940, he noted, “Marshall believed that rearming America should come first. Roosevelt overruled Marshall and others, and came down on what most historians believe is the correct decision–to do what was necessary to keep England alive.”

He went on:

The significant thing is what did not happen next. There was a powerful domestic constituency for Marshall’s position among a whole host of newspapers and congressmen and lobbies, and yet Marshall did not exploit and use them. There were no overtures to friendly congressional committee chairmen, no leaks to sympathetic reporters, no ghostwritten editorials in newspapers, no coalition-building with advocacy groups. Marshall and his colleagues made the policy work and kept England alive.

Fallon undoubtedly met Gates’s directive “to provide blunt and candid advice always.” But, unlike Marshall, he fell short on two other measures laid out by the defense secretary: “to keep disagreements private” and “to implement faithfully decisions that go against you.”

Fallon was all too public in his differences with regard to administration policy on Iraq, Iran, and the broader Middle East. His downfall came shortly after he bared his thoughts to Thomas P.M. Barnett in Esquire magazine.

Beyond Fallon’s fate, the rules that Gates laid out seem like a very sensible distillation of the proper relationship between officers and their civilian superiors. In some respects the most noteworthy theme he struck was not that dissent can sometimes go too far but that he believes dissent and debate is healthy and should be encouraged–attitudes that, rightly or wrongly, were not seen as hallmarks of Donald Rumsfeld’s days at the Pentagon.

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Good News for Iraq

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.

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.

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More About the Goofball

Yesterday I wrote about Thomas P. M. Barnett, the author of the Esquire profile of Admiral Willam Fallon, head of Centcom, who resigned following the article’s publication. I have long known that Barnett is a goofball, but it turns out that I didn’t know the half of it.

Back in 1989, when one East European Soviet satrapy after another was collapsing, Barnett, as I noted yesterday, wrote a fawning article about the “shrewd and farsighted” Nicolae Ceausescu who had just been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist-party congress” and whose “grip on power appears firm.” Two weeks later, Mr. and Mrs. Ceausescu were shot dead, and Barnett had egg — sunnyside up — on his face.

But what I did not know was that a few days after penning “Romanian Domino Stays Upright,” Barnett returned to the scene of the crime with another op-ed in the same newspaper, where he explained “Why Ceausescu Fell.” The beauty of this particular piece was that he failed to say a word about his previous analysis. Just a few weeks after telling readers about Ceausescu’s firm hold on power, here he was going on about the “people’s deep anger over their long history of oppression” and how Romanians became “ready to choose death over Ceausescu.”

This deft intellectual switcheroo evidently helped win Barnett an appointment at the Naval War College, “where he taught and served — in a senior advisory role — with military and civilian leaders in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, Central Command, Special Operations Command, and Joint Forces Command.” The quotation comes from Barnett’s autobiographical statement, available on his website, a remarkable piece of self-inflation for someone whose accomplishments, like his analysis of the Romanian revolution, have arguably subtracted more than they’ve added to the sum total of human knowledge.

Another typical example. On his website, www.thomaspmbarnett.com, Barnett exhibits a consistent fascination with what he calls the “apartheid structure” of Israel. As a self-described “prolific blogger,” he has written numerous posts that are variations on the theme of Israel as “pariah state.”

One of them is an analysis of Israel’s laws of citizenship, which Barnett describes as “defined by blood or faith.” The “historical basis for Israel as a state,” he writes, “is to recollect that tribe that got spread all over the planet in centuries past, and it doesn’t get much more racial than that.”

But in the same post, Barnett then pulls a modified, limited Ceausescu:

Now, if I’m wrongly interpreting what it takes to be an Israeli citizen, somebody please correct me and much of this post’s logic will gladly dissolve, but it’s long been my impression that only Jews (defined by blood or faith) are eligible to become full citizens of the state of Israel.

If this proposition is false, and non-Jews can enjoy “all the same citizenship and political participation rights as any Jew living there,” continues Barnett,

then I withdraw this post entirely and confess my profound ignorance on this particular subject.

Of course, the readily ascertainable fact is that many Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and even Wiccans live in Israel and enjoy “all the same citizenship and political participation rights as any Jew living there.”

What can one say, except to ask why, when writing on a politically delicate subject, does this distinguished goofball disdain to do his research first instead of proudly parading his “profound ignorance”?

Michael Scheuer undoubtedly knows the answer to this question, and so, in his own way, does Eliot Spitzer. Obsessions and compulsions can get one into deep trouble, intellectual and otherwise.

Yesterday I wrote about Thomas P. M. Barnett, the author of the Esquire profile of Admiral Willam Fallon, head of Centcom, who resigned following the article’s publication. I have long known that Barnett is a goofball, but it turns out that I didn’t know the half of it.

Back in 1989, when one East European Soviet satrapy after another was collapsing, Barnett, as I noted yesterday, wrote a fawning article about the “shrewd and farsighted” Nicolae Ceausescu who had just been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist-party congress” and whose “grip on power appears firm.” Two weeks later, Mr. and Mrs. Ceausescu were shot dead, and Barnett had egg — sunnyside up — on his face.

But what I did not know was that a few days after penning “Romanian Domino Stays Upright,” Barnett returned to the scene of the crime with another op-ed in the same newspaper, where he explained “Why Ceausescu Fell.” The beauty of this particular piece was that he failed to say a word about his previous analysis. Just a few weeks after telling readers about Ceausescu’s firm hold on power, here he was going on about the “people’s deep anger over their long history of oppression” and how Romanians became “ready to choose death over Ceausescu.”

This deft intellectual switcheroo evidently helped win Barnett an appointment at the Naval War College, “where he taught and served — in a senior advisory role — with military and civilian leaders in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, Central Command, Special Operations Command, and Joint Forces Command.” The quotation comes from Barnett’s autobiographical statement, available on his website, a remarkable piece of self-inflation for someone whose accomplishments, like his analysis of the Romanian revolution, have arguably subtracted more than they’ve added to the sum total of human knowledge.

Another typical example. On his website, www.thomaspmbarnett.com, Barnett exhibits a consistent fascination with what he calls the “apartheid structure” of Israel. As a self-described “prolific blogger,” he has written numerous posts that are variations on the theme of Israel as “pariah state.”

One of them is an analysis of Israel’s laws of citizenship, which Barnett describes as “defined by blood or faith.” The “historical basis for Israel as a state,” he writes, “is to recollect that tribe that got spread all over the planet in centuries past, and it doesn’t get much more racial than that.”

But in the same post, Barnett then pulls a modified, limited Ceausescu:

Now, if I’m wrongly interpreting what it takes to be an Israeli citizen, somebody please correct me and much of this post’s logic will gladly dissolve, but it’s long been my impression that only Jews (defined by blood or faith) are eligible to become full citizens of the state of Israel.

If this proposition is false, and non-Jews can enjoy “all the same citizenship and political participation rights as any Jew living there,” continues Barnett,

then I withdraw this post entirely and confess my profound ignorance on this particular subject.

Of course, the readily ascertainable fact is that many Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and even Wiccans live in Israel and enjoy “all the same citizenship and political participation rights as any Jew living there.”

What can one say, except to ask why, when writing on a politically delicate subject, does this distinguished goofball disdain to do his research first instead of proudly parading his “profound ignorance”?

Michael Scheuer undoubtedly knows the answer to this question, and so, in his own way, does Eliot Spitzer. Obsessions and compulsions can get one into deep trouble, intellectual and otherwise.

Read Less




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