Earlier this summer, the Senate confirmed General David Petraeus as the next Commander of CENTCOM, or Central Command, where he will oversee all U.S. forces between Egypt and Pakistan. Before the confirmation hearings, Senate staff submitted more than one hundred written questions to the General, and he composed replies. These turned out to be particularly useful as I prepared earlier this summer to interview Petraeus. Some of his answers are boilerplate, but he also submitted several mini-essays about controversial subjects. For example, look about nine pages into the document for the bold-faced question, "What do you consider to be the most significant mistakes the U.S. has made to date in Iraq?" The General's answer goes on for two pages, single-spaced.
The questions and answers also touch upon a debate that is taking place within the Army over whether the counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may have degraded the U.S. military's ability to carry out traditional combat--or what the document calls "high intensity force-on-force conflict." Underlying this debate is a belief among some American and Israeli analysts that during the summer of 2006, when Israel entered into a conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the vaunted Israeli Defense Forces performed relatively poorly because they had been sapped by their long counterinsurgency campaigns in Gaza and the West Bank. Those occupations may have distracted the Israeli military from training and innovating in precision tactics such as artillery firing--a neglect that showed up in Lebanon, where the I.D.F. seemed surprised by Hezbollah's defensive tactics, this line of analysis goes.