Streetwise Professor

August 24, 2008

The Victor Moves Up

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 3:53 am

General David Patraeus has stepped up from his position as US commander in Iraq to assume the top slot at CentCom. He leaves a victor, having accomplished what was widely considered impossible–to bring order out of chaos; to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq; provide the security necessary for Iraq to take its first tentative steps towards a political settlement; and to rescue American credibility in the region and the world.

In brief, Patraeus achieved what I said was possible in Ridgeway, Abrams, and Patraeus. I was sanguine about the surge from the beginning, arguing that the more effective employment of the most formidable military the world has ever seen would retrieve a seemingly hopeless situation; that a more aggressive use of our forces and a wise application of tried-and-true counterinsurgency techniques would prevail; that seizing the initiative would work wonders. Through his strategy and steadfastnesses, Patraeus joins the pantheon of true American military heroes. (Max Boot made the Ridgeway comparison today.)

In the Ridgeway post I stated that the primary obstacle to success was political: would Patraeus have the time and political support required to make his strategy work? Here the credit goes to George Bush, and to a lesser degree, McCain. Bush fought a war of his own, a political one, absorbing almost continuous political and personal blows while engaging in what amounts to an epic holding action. It is a testament to his will, and in this instance, his judgment. It is also a testament to the nature of the American political system. The power of the veto, and the ability of a strong minority to block legislation in the Senate, make it difficult to change the status quo and reverse course on divisive issues. This provides a ballast to the American system that enhances the credibility of commitments in a way that is not possible in parliamentary systems.

There are wider political ramifications of Patraeus’s success. Obama’s disgraceful record on the surge is well known. Not only has his judgment proved wildly wrong, he has been, ahem, less than honest in his attempts to deflect scrutiny and criticism of that judgment.

The crowning disgrace, however, relates to Patraeus directly. During his recent visit to Iraq, Obama denigrated American military commanders’ impassioned pleas that they be allowed to finish the job by saying that their perspective was narrow and blinkered; that as Commander-in-Chief it was his responsibility to take a global perspective on American military commitments and strategies. He thereby implied directly that Patraeus and his subordinates in Iraq were parochial in their outlooks, and were making recommendations that were contrary to America’s broader interests.

The condescension was breathtaking, the insult stunning. At the time Barry Obama uttered these remarks, Patraeus was already slotted to take over Central Command. Does Obama seriously believe that a thoughtful, educated, experienced soldier like Patraeus, knowing that he would soon assume broad responsibilities for military policy–including responsibility for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the two places Obama identified as more important than Iraq–would not have considered the broader ramifications of his recommendations? Does Obama really believe that Patraeus and his subordinates do not think deeply–much more deeply than he, or that he is even capable of–about the broader strategic, geopolitical, and military situation? Does he really believe that they are both unwilling and incapable of balancing American interests in Iraq with competing demands on American military resources? Does He believe that only He is sufficiently broad minded and intelligent to make the right trade-off? On what basis could he possibly arrive at that conclusion? Certainly not experience, education, training or inclination. On each of these scores Patraeus beats him like a drum. Perhaps Obama played Risk a couple of times in college, but being community organizer (whatever), political operator in Chicago, part time lawyer, part time Constitutional law lecturer, state legislator and full time self-promoter are hardly experiences that foster a broad geostrategic outlook. Patreaus is a scholar-soldier/soldier-scholar. He and his colleagues in Iraq and in the military generally have been debating, discussing, analyzing and strategizing the best ways to employ America’s military forces for years. This does not guarantee that any individual one of them is right on any particular issue, but it certainly means that a dilettante like Obama should be more than a little cautious in making such conclusory judgments in opposition to theirs.

In sum, David Patraeus is a great general and a great American. We can certainly trust his strategic judgment far more than we can trust Barry Obama’s. Obama’s opinion to the contrary just provides further evidence, as if any was needed, of his overweening arrogance and fundamental unfitness for the position of Commander-in-Chief.

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