Wednesday, April 23

ZenPundit weighs in on Defense Secretary Gates and the Petraeus nomination to CENTCOM commander

(VOA, April 23), U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has named the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, to lead the U.S. Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as U.S. military operations and security cooperation throughout the Middle East and in Central Asia and East Africa.
"Mark, What do you think of the nomination? Good move, or is it kicking Petraeus upstairs?

"Miss P:
This is excellent news and yet more confirmation of the competence and vision of SecDef Robert Gates - as well as his political clout. General Petraeus was due for consideration for a significant posting after his tour of duty in Iraq and CENTCOM chief is among the best options.

Had Petraeus been sent to NATO or the Pentagon, that might have indicated an institutional retreat from the current, evolving COIN [counterinsurgency] strategy on the part of the Army's old guard, just as they did in the wind-down of Vietnam.

Moreover, the appointment of a traditional, conventional warfare advocate at CENTCOM instead of Petraeus could easily have been taken as a signal that the Bush administration was gearing up in it's waning days to "broaden the war" by initiating a major conflict with Iran.

I expect that Petraeus is also the most 'confirmable' candidate, given the rhetoric of Democratic candidates on Afghanistan. And given that NATO is struggling in executing COIN consistently against the Taliban, Petraeus' skill and experience will be needed to get things back on track without antagonizing our European allies.

On a related matter I'm very, very happy with Robert Gates. I think he just gave a 'shape up or ship out' warning to the senior brass.[1] What he said the other day to the cadets regarding John Boyd was akin to a Soviet General-Secretary giving a speech to the Supreme Soviet on the virtues of Milton Friedman. Or Pope Benedict praising Martin Luther.
Mark Safranski, ZenPundit

Dear Mark:
Thank you for your observations. I was not happy when I first heard Gates was on track for SecDef. Your analyses suggest I should stop sticking pins in his effigy -- er, wait a minute, maybe it's been working.

Also, I note that you're recommending John McCain signal that if he wins the White House he's going to keep Gates as SecDef.

Interesting points. And Gates in that position might dissuade President McCain from his views on Russia, which deeply trouble me. We discussed this in March; I mentioned that I fully agreed with your position on the matter.

10:00 PM Update
Mark has sent me a link to a Small Wars Journal roundup on commentary about the Petraeus nomination that they consider interesting. I was struck by SWJ's very chilling closing comment, which burst my bubble of joy about the nomination. Yes. What indeed is going to happen when Ambassador Ryan Crocker retires? I'd forgotten all about that question in the tumult.

War: this thing that is always changing from moment to moment:
While General Petraeus to CENTCOM and General Odierno to MNF-I provide the military continuity – the wild card is the diplomatic continuity. With Ambassador Crocker’s retirement and a change at the top of our diplomatic leadership – both in January – the time is now to address the “all instruments of national power” requirements to see this thing through.
1) Video of the Gates speech

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