President Bush listens to his generals. I applaud this as a general principle. I'd
much rather have the president heed the advice of his generals on Iraq rather than
that so freely proffered by politicians, journalists and Hollywood celebrities.
But which generals? Differences of opinion among them are often stark. And many a
battle and many a war have been lost because of blunders made by senior generals.
President Bush's situation is very like that of an earlier wartime president whose
military experience also was limited to a short stint in the National Guard.
Abraham Lincoln listened to his generals throughout the Civil War. But the Union
didn't win until Mr. Lincoln stopped listening to generals like George B. McClellan
and Henry Halleck, and started listening to Ulysses Simpson Grant.
President Bush has been taking his military advice chiefly from Gen. John Abizaid,
chief of U.S. Central Command, and Gen. George Casey, commander of U.S. forces in
But he'll soon have a different set of military leaders from whom to take advice.
He's replacing Gen. Abizaid with Navy Admiral William Fallon, and General Casey with
LtGen. David Petraeus.
Coinciding with the replacement of the top military leaders in the Middle East is a
shake up in key civilian positions.
John D. Negroponte is stepping down as the Director of National Intelligence to
become deputy secretary of state. He'll be replaced by retired Admiral Michael
McConnell, a former head of the National Security Agency.
Zalmay Khalilzad, currently our ambassador in Iraq, is slated to replace John Bolton
as UN ambassador. Mr. Khalilzad will be replaced in Iraq by Ryan Crocker, currently
our ambassador to Afghanistan.
President Bush's critics suggest he is replacing Gens. Abizaid and Casey with
generals who are more likely to tell him what he wants to hear. But the president's
critics should at least consider the possibility that part of the reason for our
lack of success in Iraq is that our generals there have been pursuing a flawed
Gens. Abizaid and Casey oppose a troop "surge" in Iraq, which is advocated by Gen.
Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the Army, and other retired generals
(and frequent Bush critics) such as Barry McCaffrey and Anthony Zinni. Admiral
Fallon and LtGen. Petraeus are likely to be more amenable to it.
"King David," as LtGen. Petraeus was called by the Kurds when he commanded the 101st
Airborne Division in Mosul in 2003, is perhaps the Army's finest general officer.
Both warrior and intellectual, he won nearly universal praise for a subsequent
assignment training Iraqi troops, which had been a mess until he turned it around.
But I'd have been happier if overall command in Iraq had been given to Marine LtGen.
James Mattis, who is to this war what U.S. Grant was to the Civil War. A Mattis
appointment would have been a clear indication from the president that we're in Iraq
to win, not just to exit gracefully.
Many wonder why the Central Command post, hitherto a preserve of the Army and the
Marine Corps, has been given to a sailor, especially at a time when two land wars
are raging in the theater.
Admiral Fallon, currently head of the Pacific fleet, is considered one of the Navy's
best tacticians as well as strategists. His appoint could reflect rising concern at
the White House about the prospects of war with Iran. In such a war, naval forces
would be pre-eminent.
"Fallon is a big thinker, credited with some of the success we've had diplomatically
in the Pacific for the last three years," said Jed Babbin, a former deputy
undersecretary of the Navy.
The most intriguing shift to me is that of Mr. Negroponte from DNI to the State
department post that's been vacant since Robert Zoellick resigned last July. Since
Director of National Intelligence is a Cabinet post, this is technically a demotion.
The move could mean that Mr. Negroponte was unhappy in his job; that President Bush
was unhappy with the way he was doing it, or both. It could also mean that
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is planning soon to move either out or up (if
Vice President Cheney were to resign for health reasons, she'd be a logical
replacement), and Mr. Negroponte has been deep-selected as her replacement.
With an Air Force general already serving as head of the CIA, the appointment of
Admiral McConnell to replace Mr. Negroponte as DNI could mean the military is taking
over the intelligence community. But why I think this is a good idea will have to
wait for another column.