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Bush’s New Iraq Commanders Offer Experience, Perspective January 5, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Military News, US News.
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By Pauline Jelinek and Kimberly Hefling
Of THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON (AP)–President George W. Bush is installing two experienced commanders from vastly different backgrounds to carry out the new Iraq policy he will announce next week, substituting them for generals who had qualms about a fresh buildup of U.S. troops in the war zone.

One of the new military chiefs, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, is an Iraq veteran who once wrote a Princeton doctoral dissertation titled “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam.” The Vietnam quagmire has drawn increasing comparisons to Iraq.

The other new man, Adm. William Fallon, is a Navy veteran who to some is an odd choice to oversee a ground conflict in a nearly landlocked country. Yet as top U.S. commander in the Pacific, he has experience in a region that, like the Middle East, has several trouble spots.

Some former military officers said whether the two succeed depends less on their resumes than on Bush’s new policy, which he will announce as early as Wednesday. Adding thousands of additional U.S. troops to the 132,000 already there is a leading proposal he is considering, along with new economic and political approaches.

“It’s the policy that’s at fault here, not the personnel,” said Tony McPeak, Air Force chief of staff during in the administration of George H.W. Bush. Switching people without a good new plan will only be like putting “old wine in new bottles,” he said.

Even so, the changes would help Bush assert that he is taking a fresh approach in the troubled, four-year-old war in Iraq, in which more than 3,000 Americans have died and even Bush has conceded the U.S. isn’t winning. And it will insert people into the fray who will bring a fresh perspective.

“Will he bring new ideas? Yes,” retired Marine Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, former deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, said of Petraeus. “Will he push his new ideas forward? Yes he will.”

As part of Bush’s overhaul, the White House announced he is replacing the two top generals in the war. Gen. John Abizaid, the U.S. commander in the Middle East, and Gen. George Casey, the chief general in Iraq, are both expected to leave their jobs in coming weeks.

Fallon, the U.S. commander in the Pacific, replaces Abizaid, who was to retire months ago. Fallon’s portfolio will also include the lower-intensity war in Afghanistan.

Petraeus, who headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces, will take Casey’s place as ground commander in Iraq. Casey in turn will replace Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who is retiring. All new appointments require Senate confirmation, which is expected.

In a statement, Bush said Fallon had earned a reputation as one of the nation’s “foremost military strategists.”

Of Petraeus, he said, “His service in Iraq has equipped him with expertise in irregular warfare and stability operations and an understanding of the enemy we face.”

Petraeus, 55, from Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y., is seen as a blend of military veteran and politically savvy intellect.

Besides earning his doctorate from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, he spent a year in Bosnia before moving to Fort Campbell, Ky., to be commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division. Under his command, the 101st participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq before settling in northern Iraq for nearly a year.

“Dave Petraeus is a terrific leader and well grounded in the challenges in Iraq,” said John Batiste, a retired major general who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq from 2002 to 2005.

In 2004, Petraeus was tapped to enact a key piece of Bush’s strategy in Iraq – training the Iraqi security forces so U.S. forces could come home. Iraqi forces, though growing in size and controlling ever bigger swaths of territory, are seen by many American commanders as unreliable. Some units are riddled with militia infiltrators, desertions are frequent, and some soldiers routinely refuse to fight in areas outside their home communities.

Petraeus now heads the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and helped rewrite the military’s new manual on counterinsurgency – the kind of battle the U.S. was largely fighting in Iraq until sectarian killings emerged as a huge new danger last year.

Fallon, 61, has held the No. 2 Navy job at the Pentagon, flew combat missions in the Vietnam War, commanded a carrier air wing in the Persian Gulf War of 1991, and four years later led the naval battle group supporting NATO operations in Bosnia.

Fallon is familiar with political tensions, since his command includes North Korea, China and Taiwan.

As an admiral, Fallon seemed a surprising choice to run a command consumed by America’s two major ground wars, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Analysts said the nomination may suggest that the administration has an eye on potential conflicts that would be more dependent on naval or air power, such as with nearby Iran.

“He always gets stuff done,” DeLong said. “He never leaves anything on the table,”

Still, several analysts said winning a campaign isn’t just about individuals.

If the key to success in Iraq is political reconciliation rather than battlefield victories, as the Bush administration has said, “then it’s indeed unfair to expect military leadership to have a major effect,” said foreign policy expert Christopher Preble of the CATO Institute.

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