As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Petraeus and Odierno Off Message In The Senate

A Man Called Petraeus is back in Washington today, for his Senate confirmation hearings to be the head of Centcom. Gen. Odierno is there as well, looking to be confirmed as Petraeus' successor in Iraq. And they've both had some interesting things to say.

First, Petraeus got the same question Ryan Crocker got from Joe Biden in April about the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area. And he had the same answer.

Jack Reed finally brings up the gorilla in the room. He asks Petraeus if he agrees with the intelligence community and Chairman Mullen's assessment that the next terrorist attack on the United States would most likely come from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.

Petraeus says YES.

And Reed naturally asks, then why does the campaign plan focus on Iraq not Afghanistan and Pakistan? Reed also asks how Petraeus would plan to actually bring more troops into that area, since they're all in Iraq.

Petraeus, nominated to Centcom, cannot hide behind his "I'm just a simple country general focused on Iraq" shtick, but really the policymakers at the White House should be the ones answering this question. Especially since the new Pakistani government is doing nothing to stop cross-border raids in Afghanistan, and has signed another peace deal with Taliban elements in the Swat Valley. This makes sense for the Pakistanis in a self-interested sense, but if you do believe that Afghanistan is waning and a safe haven for terrorist plotters is a bad thing, it's something we should probably devote some attention to.

Later, Jim Webb backed Raymond Odierno into a corner:

Webb tells Odierno that a key part of strategizing is to "be able to articulate clearly what the endpoint of that strategy is." So: What's the endgame, "in military terms"?

Odierno: "A self-reliant government that is stable, a government that will contribute inside of the regional context and the international context. Obviously, that means they need a professional security force... Obviously, a place that will not allow a safe haven for terrorists or extremists that threaten region... or the United States. ... An economic engine that [provides for] the continued improvement of the Iraqi people. ... From a military perspective, the ability to secure themselves, and do it in such a way that allows the government to continue to grow. ... and we will continue to do less and less." [...]

But what's the endpoint? Say U.S. meets all these conditions. Should there be a continued U.S. presence there? "That's a discussion... for policy." Webb won't let it go! What do you think, Gen. Odierno? Will there be a need for the U.S. military in Iraq if those conditions are met? "I do not." Finally.

Now that's how an adult asks a question.

Indeed, and it's really the entire point about Iraq. We can continue to put the country on lockdown and rule under the methods of an occupation, but it doesn't get us to that desired end-state. And if we pull back, and let the Iraqis handle things, we have no reason for being there. Webb finally got Odierno to admit that.

But the most interesting bit from the Petraeus hearings happened before them, when in written answers to the Senate Armed Services Committee he showed himself to be an un-American appeaser of the Chamberlain school:

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, President Bush's nominee to lead U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, supports continued U.S. engagement with international and regional partners to find the right mix of diplomatic, economic and military leverage to address the challenges posed by Iran.

In written answers to questions posed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he will testify today, Petraeus said the possibility of military action against Iran should be retained as a "last resort." But he said the United States "should make every effort to engage by use of the whole of government, developing further leverage rather than simply targeting discrete threats."

Petraeus's views echoed those expressed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who this month said that talks with Iran could be useful if the right combination of incentives and pressures could be developed.

There's every reason to believe that Tehran wants talks like this, too.

This is so obvious that you can't help but go off the Bush-McCain reservation. Diplomacy is not just a tool in the shed along with bombers and tanks, it's the most powerful tool. In the Muslim world, the growing trend is that as terrorist attacks increase, terrorism grows less popular. And the flip side is also true; as American military attacks increase, that decrease in support for terrorism shoots back up as it can be recast as resistance. Without public support for terrorism it can be choked off, therefore public diplomacy becomes a much greater way to reach the desired result than bombings which inflame the population. Give terrorists the rope to hang themselves, in other words, by building a broad coalition against them. And Iran can be a player on that stage.

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