From The NewYork Times:
WASHINGTON — Iraq may be President Bush’s war, but Gen. David H. Petraeus has become its front man: a clear-speaking, politically savvy, post-Vietnam combat veteran with a Ph.D. from Princeton. Given the failures that have plagued the mission from the start, he may yet be Mr. Bush’s best hope for sustaining public support for an unpopular war once his presidency ends.
Now this astutely political general faces a season of political trials in the politically charged atmosphere of a presidential campaign — not to mention military ones, as illustrated by recent fighting in the southern city of Basra, which calls into question his efforts to prepare the Iraqi Army to stand on its own.
Such is General Petraeus’s position that President Bush has repeatedly said that he would do nothing not recommended by his chosen commander in Iraq. And so successfully have the two men — civilian and soldier — managed to sustain the war in defiance of public opinion that some in the punditry and blogosphere have given voice to visions of him as a military man with a political future.
General Petraeus, following the officers’ tradition of avoiding publicly partisan activity while in uniform, has repeatedly denied any civilian political ambition. Never mind that no one even knows which party he belongs to, if any. An aide said that he has not voted since he became a major general in 2001.
However reticent he is on that score, his ambition as a general was matched with an exceedingly challenging assignment on the ground in Iraq. After successfully arguing for the chance to test a new Army counterinsurgency strategy that he himself wrote, General Petraeus flooded Iraq’s cities with American forces, creating the military presence necessary to re-establish at least a semblance of authority in areas that had been taken over by extremist militias or terrorist groups. That allowed tribal leaders, especially in Sunni areas like Anbar Province, essentially to switch sides.
His success was thus in part political (as far as it went, critics would say). But the improvements in security he has presided over could evaporate if Iraq’s new leaders fall back into ethnic rivalries and violence. And the Iraqi Army’s inconclusive assault against Shiite militias in Basra last month, in which more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen refused to fight or simply abandoned their posts, can’t be an encouraging sign.
At home, the war’s critics have accused General Petraeus of aligning himself far too closely with President Bush’s policies — above and beyond what would be required from any officer who answers to the commander in chief.
Lawrence J. Korb, a defense official under President Reagan who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, called General Petraeus “the most political general since Douglas MacArthur.” He cited an op-ed article the general wrote in The Washington Post defending the war and the progress being made in Iraq. The subject wasn’t as controversial as the timing; it appeared six weeks before the 2004 election between President Bush and Senator John Kerry, a race in which the war loomed large.
“That doesn’t help with the credibility of the profession,” Mr. Korb said. “He could have written that six months after the election.”
From the Navy Times:
In a sign of the potential fireworks to come next week when Bush administration officials unveil their plans for the next steps in Iraq, two Senate committee chairman said they believe the so-called surge of U.S. combat forces has failed.
And they acknowledge that there isn’t much they can do about it.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, said he expects U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Army Gen. David Petraeus, senior U.S. military commander in Iraq, to recommend maintaining current troop levels in Iraq instead of pushing ahead with a planned reduction this summer.
Levin and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said they disagree that current troops levels should be maintained. But their hands are tied because they cannot muster the 60 votes needed in the Senate to block the certain filibuster that Republicans would launch to prevent any efforts to reduce U.S. troop levels further.
Biden said the surge of troops ordered last year as a move toward providing stability in Iraq has been a failure because the Iraqi government did not use the opportunity to resolve issues that were causing sectarian divisions.
“It is a little like ‘Groundhog Day,’ ” Biden said, referring to the 1993 movie in which the same day repeats itself again and again. “We are right back where we started.”
The U.S. military “did its job, but the Iraqis have not come together,” he said, describing the violence in Iraq as returning to 2005 levels.