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Politicizing the Petraeus Progress Report
by J. F. Kelly, Jr. 9/14/07

General Petraeus’ long-awaited report on the progress of the surge operations in Iraq made it clear that the military objective it envisioned is being met, this being the establishment of sufficient security to allow for political reconciliation among the Shia, Sunni and Kurds so that the country could rule itself effectively. The military plainly has done its part in reducing violence thus far. The Iraqi political and tribal leaders clearly have not done theirs as evidenced by a lack of success in achieving satisfactory progress on a majority of the U.S.-set benchmarks.

The improved security, of course, could collapse entirely upon the withdrawal of U.S. forces which, after all, is going to happen eventually. The American public never committed to an indefinite, major combat military presence in Iraq. Nor are our military forces structured to support such an open-ended commitment. Another major contingency requiring a military response would place unacceptable strains on our already stressed volunteer and reserve- dependent military structure.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

Our military forces are mission-oriented and our competitive military culture allows, for the most part, leaders who consistently achieve mission success to rise to the top. Professionalism is measured in terms of performance, not primarily loyalty to seniors. This quality distinguishes the military, I believe, from many other professions including politics and diplomacy. It is imperative that, given the stakes involved in this war, that our political leaders listen to their views and at least consider them. President George W. Bush has been consistently receptive to military advice, more so than some of his top civilian assistants, including former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Some members of Congress, on the other hand, seem to take the position that everything said by members of the military is designed to support the president and “his” war and, hence, must be viewed with skepticism.

It was not surprising, therefore, to hear some members immediately challenge General Petraeus’ objectivity, even before he had finished answering questions. Many of the questions, moreover, went beyond the boundaries of the general’s authority and responsibility, revealing apparent confusion on the part of some members of Congress regarding the distinction between the political and military objectives of this war. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), for example, asked whether his proposal regarding troop levels in Iraq would make America safer. How should Petraeus know the answer to that, which is essentially what he replied.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama asked “At what point do we say ‘enough’?” The answer to that comes from the commander-in-chief in the White House, not from an Army General whose assignment is to establish sufficient security to permit the Iraqi politicians to do their thing, if they are, in fact, able to at any level of security. Even Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) who has been supportive of our efforts in Iraq, drew a perplexed look from Petraeus when he asked if he had considered attacking alleged training camps in Iran, said to be training Shiite militia members. Petaeus wisely deferred that one to his chain of command. If members of Congress are unable to separate the military and political components and responsibilities of this war, image the confusion among the public at large.

Questioning the general’s integrity by some members of Congress, the press and liberal organizations opposed to the war and anything Bush does or says, is rather laughable. Congress needs to be reminded that the latest Gallup Poll on America’s most trusted institutions ranked the military highest with a 69% confidence rating while ranking Congress lowest at 14%.The military culture maintains a strict code of ethics and honesty. It is difficult to say the same of an organization that has been repeatedly racked in recent years by scandals involving dishonesty and self-gain.

In the military, mission accomplishment is what is rewarded. There is no second prize for trying hard. The political-diplomatic culture is quite different. Its leaders are socialized to value win-win situations more than victories and to avoid confrontations which are viewed often as a failure of diplomacy. The cultures often clash in their pursuit of national objectives. When cabinet level officials are unable to achieve consensus, it is up to the president to referee disputes. Members or committees of Congress cannot do this for him, try though they may.

 Military leaders are often accused of spinning every outcome into a success of some sort or, in other words, of being overly “can do”. While there is some validity to this, they are also their own severest critics, constantly seeking lessons to be learned from every outcome. Many political and diplomatic leaders, on the other hand, seem unable to criticize their own strategies or to acknowledge mistakes.

The Petraeus report should be viewed for what it is: a progress report on a military operation, not a status report on our political objectives in Iraq. It should bring little comfort to Americans because while the surge is improving security, the political progress within Iraq is quite simply unsatisfactory. The military can continue to improve security but at a significant cost because we cannot continue this level of commitment in Iraq indefinitely.

The political objective of a unified, functioning government has not been achieved, judging from the unsatisfactory progress made toward the eighteen benchmarks, and may never be achieved. Given the continued, inbred tribal and religious hatreds and the shifting sentiments and loyalties, the best hope for political success may be the partitioning of Iraq into independent Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni nations as previously suggested. Difficult problems involving oil revenues, population relocation, relations with neighboring countries and the role of the UN are involved but partitioning may provide the only exit strategy for our overextended military. CRO

copyright 2007 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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