President Bush has adopted General David Petraeus as his savior. Yesterday, he questioned why Congress "would reject a strategy being carried out by Gen. David Petraeus." When General Petraeus was appointed, a senior government official said, according to the New York Times, that the decision was part of an effort by Mr. Bush to demonstrate that he was changing his approach in Iraq. "This helps the president to make the case that this is a fresh start." Petraeus had previously served two tours in Iraq and sees the need for additional troops there.
Before the election in 2006, General George Casey, who had led the War in Iraq for two years, had said that he believed that the U.S. could reduce troop levels before the end of the year. He had also expressed doubts about the need for more troops. Petraeus replaces General Casey.
On the face of it, this is not a bad thing. Tom Ricks, in his Pulitzer winning Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq clearly thinks that Petraeus was the best General there. He writes that "Petraeus had more education about counter-insurgency operations than any other division commander in Iraq. He described his methods as counter-insurgency rather than anti-insurgency; they seemed to work. When he left Mosul, where his 101st Airborne division was based, Ricks writes, "There was an average of just five 'hostile contacts'...a day in the division's operating area...Mosul was quiet while Petraeus was there."
Nevertheless, again quoting Ricks, "After two sterling tours in Iraq...David Petraeus came back to a senior job at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas in the army's training command overseeing the education of officers and writing doctrine." The Pentagon turned its most successful field commander into a professor. "The post was a relative backwater." Ricks adds that "two generals who arguably had failed in Iraq had received promotion and higher ranks." Now Petraeus has been pulled out of the backwater and turned into the solution for our problems in Iraq.
One can make the argument that it's better late than never, that with Rumsfeld gone and a new general with a new strategy in charge, the president has taken the fresh approach that he promised. Maybe it is one last best chance. Except...
General Casey, the guy who got it wrong. He's just been appointed and confirmed by the Senate as army Chief of Staff. He's Petraeus' boss. Why, for God's sake, why? Even though the president named him, the Senate had the right to reject him. Instead, the Senate attempted to pass a meaningless nonbinding resolution disapproving the troop increase. It will have no effect. The rejection of General Casey would have demonstrated to the president that he is not the sole decider. Moreover, it might have gotten a load stone off General Petraeus' back.
If President Bush is going to introduce a new strategy, why does he place it under the command of a General whose strategy has already failed, and why has the Senate let him do it?