Army Musical Chairs
Playing the role of team manager, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced some major changes to his lineup of Army generals, which may have far-reaching implications for American policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as for the long-term health of the U.S. Military.
Let's look at today's moves:
Gen. David Petraeus to CENTCOM. After ousting Adm. William "Fox" Fallon for various sins, Gates tapped his top Iraq commander to run the organization responsible for both of America's wars and a bunch of other hotspots. As my friends at Abu Muqawama note, the challenge will be for Petraeus to command CENTCOM in a way that embraces all of these places, and shows no improper preference for Iraq (although Iraq is the main effort for CENTCOM, so some preference will be natural). Another challenge will be for Petraeus to sustain himself and his staff in yet another grueling assignment. Granted, he'll be home-based in Tampa, Fla., but I don't imagine he'll spend much time there.
Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno to MNF-I. Odierno, who recently returned home from a tour as the corps commander in Iraq under Petraeus, will now return to take the top spot. By various accounts, including Tom Ricks's Fiasco, Odierno took the wrong mindset with him to Iraq during his first deployment in 2003-04 as the 4th Infantry Division's commander, pushing heavy-handed tactics that reportedly did a great deal to fuel the insurgency during that time. He apparently, though, had a "Road to Damascus" moment between his two tours, returning to Iraq in late 2006 as a general who preached the gospel of enlightened counterinsurgency. My question is whether Odierno can make the leap from corps commander to top commander and adjust his mental paradigm and personal relationships accordingly for the new job.
Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli to Vice Chief of Staff. Chiarelli commanded the 1st Cavalry Division early in the Iraq war and then returned to command the corps a year later, handing the guidon over to Odierno in late 2006. He's a thoughtful guy who pushed his unit to think more holistically (and less militarily) about how to win hearts and minds. I'm a bit surprised to see him moved into the vice chief of staff job, because I thought he was a shoe-in to take the top Iraq job that Odierno just got. But these are both four-star jobs and both important. And, there's definitely some institutional politics going on here. Unlike some of the other generals, Chiarelli remains relatively untainted by the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, because he served as a relatively apolitical corps commander and division commander. So putting him in at Vice means that the Army might get to keep him in a Democratic administration. Look for Chiarelli to be the next MNF-I or CENTCOM commander in January 2009 -- or to join the Joint Chiefs, either as chairman of the Joint Chiefs or chief of staff of the Army.
For more commentary, check out:
- Attackerman: "Marching With Feet Tied"
- Danger Room: "Petraeus Gets Promotion; Odierno Gets Iraq (Updated)"
- Tom Barnett: "Better for America that Petraeus does CENTCOM instead of EUCOM"
- Bill Kristol: "The allegedly lame duck Bush administration has. . . hit a home run."
- Shawn Brimley: "Impressions on Military Shifts"
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