Confirmation hearings tomorrow for Gen. Petraeus and Gen. Odierno will allow us an opportunity to focus on Iraq as well as how the war broadly impacts other critical national security questions: Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and the strain on the military.
In previous hearings, when he was leading our forces in Iraq, General Petraeus deferred on these questions, stating that the topics were outside of his purview. But now that he is being nominated for CENTCOM Commander - and will likely be in charge of commanding any U.S. military operations from the Horn of Africa to the Middle East to Central Asia - he must address larger strategic questions.
Below are the questions I believe both Gen. Petraeus and Gen. Odierno need to address in order for the American people to gain a better sense of what their, and the administration's, greater strategic plans are for America's security:
QUESTIONS FOR GENERAL PETRAEUS
Question 1: President Bush last week described negotiating with Iran as equivalent to Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler. Yet last month Ambassador Ryan Crocker said, "we are willing to sit down with Iran, face to face, for talks on Iraqi security at the invitation of the Iraqi government. We've had three rounds of those talks and we've told them we are ready to again." Also, last week Secretary of Defense Gates said "My own view, just my personal view, would be we ought to look for ways outside of government to open up the channels and get more of a flow of people back and forth." What do you make of these apparently contradictory views? Do you agree with President Bush or with Secretary Gates and Ambassador Crocker? Would you support a strategy of engaging with the Iranian government.? [ABC News, 4/08/08, Reuters, 5/16/08]
Question 2: As part of your strategy in Iraq you have supported engaging in direct talks with former Sunni insurgents who used to attack American forces. You have also supported carefully engaging Muqtada Al Sadr and made complementary statements about him in the press in an attempt to maintain his ceasefire and encourage him to engage in Iraqi politics. Given that your strategy in Iraq has been largely based on talking to our enemies would you support continuing to talk to Iran about Iraq and expanding the dialogue to other subjects such as Afghanistan and naval tensions in the Persian Gulf? [AFP, 5/01/08]
Afghanistan / Pakistan
Questions 3: The nation's 16 intelligence agencies stated that the most direct threat to the U.S. homeland is actually from the borderland between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Do you agree and if not, why not? How will you work to change our posture globally within CENTCOM to put primary attention on this immediate threat?
Question 4: Admiral Mullen has said that "In Afghanistan we do what we can. In Iraq we do what we must." Moreover, according to news sources, commanders on the ground indicate that an additional 10,000-12,000 troops are needed. Do you agree that more troops are needed in Afghanistan and, if so, how many? Are operations in Iraq an obstacle to increasing our troop levels in Afghanistan? [USA Today, 11/12/07, WSJ, 5/06/08]
Question 5: The GAO released a report last month titled: The United States Lacks a Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The report concluded that the United States "has not met its national security goals to destroy the terrorist threat" and that there is "No comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national security goals" in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Do you agree with this assessment? What strategies will you employ to better work with the Pakistani government and its military to thwart the Al Qaeda threat emanating from the tribal regions of Pakistan? [GAO, 4/17/08]
Question 6: Pentagon officials have recently said that the military stands ready to help assist Pakistan in reorienting its army for counterinsurgency efforts; the Pentagon's top official for special operations has suggested that U.S. special operations or even conventional forces could become involved in joint operations with Pakistani troops in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in a "low visibility manner." Other Pentagon officials have talked about transferring the lessons from working with tribal groups in Iraq to Pakistan. Do you think that there are aspects of the approaches used in Iraq that could be used in Pakistan? If so, which ones and how?
Question 7: Officials in Pakistan's new democratically-elected government have held discussions with leaders of various militant groups in an attempt to strike a deal and reduce violence. The new government also reportedly struck a deal with them that led to the release of the Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan. Some have compared these deals and potential deals to the agreements struck on Waziristan in 2006 by Musharraf - which helped lead to the safe havens that are part of the problem today. How would you see these negotiations as Commander of CENTCOM? How will you deal with the government of Pakistan regarding these negotiations?
Question 8: I'm very concerned about the Islamist insurgency in Somalia. Somalia has reemerged as a terrorist haven, piracy is increasing off the Somali coast, and the current food crisis and drought in the region create a highly unstable situation of growing concern to U.S. security. The U.S. military is clearly aware of this situation and has conducted numerous air strikes against terrorist targets in Somalia. What is your approach to address this growing problem in Somalia and how does it fit in with broader U.S. policy toward Somalia, the Horn of Africa region, terrorism, failed states, and ungoverned territories? Could you also please elaborate on how CENTCOM plans to coordinate the handing off of responsibility for this region to AFRICOM?
Strains on the Military
Question 9: We have heard a lot about the strains of our deployments in Iraq, particularly with regard to the surge, with the Army saying that more than 25% of soldiers on 3rd or 4th tours suffer mental health problems and the Army's Vice Chief of Staff, General Cody saying the surge "took all the stroke out of the shock absorbers for the United States Army." Adding that "Our readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it...testing the resolve of our all-volunteer force like never before." What do we need to do to reduce those strains on the soldiers and Marines under your command? What impact do these strains have on our ability to respond to contingencies in CENTCOM? [Washington Post, 4/02/08]
QUESTIONS FOR GENERAL ODIERNO
Question 1: Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen have indicated that the current pause in the drawdown of U.S. troops will be brief and that more troops will begin to depart Iraq relatively soon. However, General Petraeus and President Bush have both indicated that the pause in troop withdrawals will be indefinite. And this week there are reports that new troop rotations into Iraq will ensure that there will be 140,000 troops in Iraq through the end of 2008. How long do you envision the pause will last? Do the new troop rotations guarantee that there will be 140,000 troops in Iraq as of the end of 2008? How many forces do you plan to have in Iraq for the Iraqi provincial election in October; will we need a temporary increase? Under what conditions do you think we could further reduce troop levels in Iraq? [Washington Post, 5/20/08. Washington Post, 4/11/08]
Question 2: General Petraeus told CBS News a couple of months ago that the inability to find jobs and integration for Sunnis was the thing above all else that keeps him up at night. How do you define success in terms of measuring what the Iraqi central government needs to be doing on this front? Have you set specific benchmarks? Has the Iraqi government been meeting those measures and integrating the Sunni groups into Iraqi security forces or giving them other work?
Question 3: Assuming a decision by the president, in your professional estimation, how long would a responsible withdrawal from Iraq take?