President Bush has done his successor a great favor by nominating Gen. David Petraeus as the new chief of U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno to replace him as the top commander in Iraq. The two generals worked in close cooperation last year to carry out the "surge" of U.S. forces in Iraq; their counterinsurgency tactics prevented an Iraqi civil war and reduced violence by up to 75 percent. By teaming them again, and giving Petraeus overall responsibility for the region as head of U.S. Central Command, Bush has improved the odds that the next administration will be able to sustain the gains in Iraq while gradually drawing down forces.
Petraeus' appointment also improves the chances that the United States will develop a coherent strategy for facing the multiple threats it now confronts across the Middle East and southern Asia. Two weeks ago, Democratic senators sought to score points during testimony by Petraeus by pressing him to concede that the threat from al-Qaida is greater in Afghanistan and Pakistan than it is in Iraq. The questioning, which was reiterated Wednesday by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., in reaction to the new appointments, overlooks the fact that al-Qaida is now weaker in Iraq precisely because of the military successes of the past year. But the larger point it misses is that Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are all pieces of a larger problem requiring a comprehensive approach.
Petraeus showed during his recent testimony that he recognizes the growing threat to U.S. interests posed by Iran - one that manifests itself not only in attacks by Tehran-backed "special groups" on American soldiers in Iraq and in the ongoing Iranian nuclear program but in support for anti-Western militias and terrorists in Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Iran's bid for hegemony over the Middle East must be countered by a sophisticated strategy - one in which diplomacy should play a major role but in which military action cannot be ruled out.
The United States has been slow to learn how to effectively fight the wars that followed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Odierno, for example, was heavily criticized following his first tour of Iraq in 2003 because the tactics of his 4th Infantry Division were said to have caused excessive civilian casualties and contributed to the Sunni insurgency. Now Odierno and Petraeus are seasoned directors of a new counterinsurgency strategy that incorporates the painful lessons absorbed by the U.S. military during the past five years. By keeping them in the region, Bush will give the next president the opportunity not to repeat his own administration's history of mistakes caused by ignorance, inexperience and illusions. The Senate should swiftly confirm the nominations.
- Washington Post
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.