In their coverage of yesterday’s Congressional hearings to confirm General David Petraeus and Lieutenant General Ray Odeirno as CENTCOM Commander and Commander of Iraq forces, respectively, Bergmann and Goldenberg illuminated this key point.
Three similarities were noted, each drawing a definite contrast between their military acumen and the bellicose fumblings blathering from opposition like McCain and the White House:
Foremost, Obama and Petraeus agree that the chief threat to America, both in terms of our ability to project military power to influence our ends and of threats to the nation, lurks in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions. It should be elementary that polishing off al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who’ve demonstrated themselves to be willing and effective dangers to the US, is the priority. Obama and Petraeus get that.
Secondly, both favor a strengthening of diplomatic engagement with Iran. While not as pretty a picture for average Americans inculcated with the pabulum of “Good v. Evil” struggles as a WANTED poster with bin Ladin on it, extensive talks with Iran are necessary. We bought the mess that is and always was Iraq – a feisty, factious lodgment against Iranian ambitions, directly on Tehran’s porch. We have to work things out with our neighbors, so long as we don’t have a military presence that can not just deter Iran, but credibly effect regime change.
We don’t have that presence, nor can we gain it without extensive sacrifice by the American people and systemic shifts in our way of life. That means, like it or not, we need to make nice.
The last point is that Odeirno and Obama both see a permanent military presence in Iraq to be disadvantageous. By extension and by reading his writings on counterinsurgency, we find Petraeus agrees with his lieutenant.
Again, this may drop jaws among those that feel that threats must be met with threats in kind. But in the case of Iraq – as with all military ventures – one needs to examine the returns on investment of forces: If we stay hard and heavy in Iraq, we occupy one of the most volatile, resentful populations on some tough terrain. Our presence draws the presence of enemies. If, however, we post troops in local zones capable of projecting power in Iraq if things go south, we retain a formidable power in the region while not standing on the hornet’s nest.
Yet for all Bergmann and Goldberg’s proof of strategic synergy, there is one possible break in the attitudes of Obama and Petraeus: What to do with the troops now?
Both sides beat the drum of their respective superiors. Obama sounds the hue and cry of the American population – a war-weary and confused people who would just as soon walk away from the murderous muddle of Iraq’s sands, cutting their losses. Petraeus has to sound off about how, though there’s no end in sight, there can be hope if we are committed to Iraq.
I will clue you in on a secret, dear reader: Both men are committed to Iraq. Obama does not want to be the second President to preside over helicopters fleeing an embattled embassy. Petraeus doesn’t want an endless string of America’s sons and daughters – his troops – in the sand. Neither wants a disaster.
So it remains to be seen if Obama, when elected, comes to agree with Petraeus – and myself. When he says he will listen to his generals, the crucial point could be that he will recognize that massive troop presence has to continue until the three possible threats to Iraqi sovereignty as it now stands are declawed: The Sunni militias, Sadr’s Shia militias, and al-Qaeda.
That, however, is a matter of how to handle limited resources to manage a disaster neither can speak candidly in public on. More important is that both men agree on what the vision for our overall resources is when facing our foremost contemporary threats.
And most important of all is that they’re right.