Although "President Bush is promoting his top Iraq commander, Army Gen. David Petraeus, and replacing him with the general's recent deputy, keeping the U.S. on its war course and handing the next president a pair of combat-tested commanders who have relentlessly defended Bush's strategies," nevertheless "Democrats on Capitol Hill are not expected to oppose either Petraeus or Odierno, but they are likely to raise tough questions during confirmation hearings," Robert Burns of the Associated Press reported Wednesday.[1]  --  Burns noted that in announcing Petraeus's nomination, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates continued to use incendiary rhetoric against Iran:  "[W]hat the Iranians are doing is killing American service men and women inside Iraq."  --  Gareth Porter, writing for IPS, said that Petraeus's appointment as commander of Central Command "gives Vice President Dick Cheney greater freedom of action to exploit the option of an air attack against Iran during the administration's final months."[2]  --  Andrew Gray of Reuters reported on Gen. Ray Odierno, likely to succeed to the post of top U.S. commander in Iraq, and on his unlikely relationship with David Petraeus.[3] ...


By Robert Burns

** Army Gen. Petraeus' promotion locks officers in place for Bush administration's successor **

Associated Press
April 23, 2008

President Bush is promoting his top Iraq commander, Army Gen. David Petraeus, and replacing him with the general's recent deputy, keeping the U.S. on its war course and handing the next president a pair of combat-tested commanders who have relentlessly defended Bush's strategies.

Bush will nominate Petraeus to replace Navy Adm. William J. Fallon as chief of U.S. Central Command, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Wednesday. The command's area of responsibility features some of the most vexing military and foreign policy problems facing this administration and its successor -- including Iran, Pakistan, Lebanon, parts of Africa and Afghanistan, in addition to Iraq.

Fallon resigned last month, saying news reports that he was at odds with the White House over Iran policy had become a distraction. He was the first Navy officer to lead Central Command; the Petraeus choice represents a return to the more common practice of making it an Army slot.

Petraeus would be succeeded at a pivotal time in Baghdad by Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, who was the No. 2 commander in Iraq for 15 months. He has been credited by many with deftly managing security gains that Petraeus told Congress this month have opened a pathway for potential political progress in the country.

Gates said he hoped the Senate would act on both nominations by next month and expected Petraeus to switch to the Central Command job, which is based in Tampa, Fla., by late summer or early fall.

That is the point at which Petraeus is likely to make an initial recommendation to Gates and to Bush on whether conditions in Iraq are stable enough to permit a further reduction in U.S. troop levels.

The United States has about 160,000 troops in Iraq and about 28,000 in Afghanistan. The strain of those wars has taken a heavy toll on U.S. ground forces.

Among the politically sensitive questions Petraeus would face as head of Central Command is whether the military focus on Iraq is limiting what U.S. and allied forces can accomplish in Afghanistan. And he would be pressed on the matter of using military force against Iran.

The next president taking office in January would not be compelled to keep either Petraeus or Odierno, but normally the lineup of senior commanders -- as well as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- is not changed with administrations.

"There is no precedent in U.S. tradition for a new president changing these kinds of officers," said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an occasional adviser to Petraeus. "For an incoming president to change them (in 2009) would be a real statement."

Many Republicans, including all-but-certain presidential nominee John McCain, are enthusiastic Petraeus supporters. Democrats on Capitol Hill are not expected to oppose either Petraeus or Odierno, but they are likely to raise tough questions during confirmation hearings.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid noted after Gates' announcement that any war commander must be committed to "implementing major changes in strategy" if directed to do so by a new president.

"The Senate will carefully examine these nominations, and I will be looking for credible assurances of a strong commitment to implementing a more effective national security strategy," said Reid, D-Nev.

John Batiste, a retired Army two-star general who was a division commander in Iraq in 2004-05, said in an e-mail exchange that he has confidence in the abilities of Petraeus and Odierno, but he questions whether their experience and expertise can make the crucial difference in the U.S. war on terror.

"The best military in the world . . . cannot redeem a national strategy which fails in the more important diplomatic, political, and economic components of strategy and when the nation is not mobilized behind our incredible service men and women," wrote Batiste, who was among the retired officers who spoke out against the war two years ago in what became known as the revolt of the generals.

At a Pentagon news conference, Gates said he did not foresee that the new lineup at Central Command and in Iraq would mean any changes in the way the U.S. is approaching the issue of Iranian influence in Iraq. Petraeus and Odierno have both accused Iran of aiding rebels opposing U.S. troops.

"It's my belief that General Odierno and General Petraeus and Admiral Fallon were all in exactly the same position when it came to their views of Iranian interference inside Iraq," Gates said. "And it is a hard position. Because what the Iranians are doing is killing American service men and women inside Iraq."

Petraeus will face broader aspects of the Iran issue if he is confirmed as Fallon's replacement. A number of U.S. officials, including Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have asserted that Iran also is supplying arms or otherwise supporting the Taliban rebels in Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, Gates said that while war with Iran would be "disastrous on a number of levels," the military option cannot be abandoned so long as the Iranians remain a potential nuclear threat.

Many had seen a strong possibility that Gates' senior military assistant, Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, would replace Petraeus in Baghdad if Petraeus were nominated for the Central Command job.

Asked why he had recommended Odierno, Gates said, "General Odierno is known recently to the Iraqi leadership, he's known to the Iraqi generals, he is known to our own people, he has current experience," and so the odds of a smooth transition in Baghdad "are better with him than with anybody else I could identify."

Odierno, currently commander of the Army's 3rd Corps at Fort Hood, Texas, served as the No. 2 commander in Iraq from December 2006 to February 2008. Chiarelli, who preceded Odierno in that post and then joined Gates' staff, will be nominated as the next vice chief of staff of the Army. Bush had nominated Odierno for that job some months ago; Gates said that nomination will be withdrawn.

The current Army vice chief of staff, Gen. Richard Cody, is expected to retire this summer.


By Gareth Porter

Inter Press Service
April 24, 2008

The nomination of Gen. David Petraeus to be the new head of the Central Command not only ensures that he will be available to defend the George W. Bush administration's policies toward Iran and Iraq at least through the end of Bush's term and possibly even beyond.

It also gives Vice President Dick Cheney greater freedom of action to exploit the option of an air attack against Iran during the administration's final months.

Petraeus will take up the CENTCOM post in late summer or early fall, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The ability of the administration to threaten Iran with an attack both publicly and behind the scenes had been dramatically reduced in 2007 by opposition from the former CENTCOM commander, Adm. William Fallon, until he stepped down from the post under pressure from Gates and the White House last month.

Petraeus has proved himself willing to cooperate closely with the White House policy lines on Iraq and Iran, arguing against any post-surge reduction in troop strength policy and blaming Iran for challenges to the U.S. military presence. Along with the deference to Petraeus in Congress and the media, his pliability on those issues made him the obvious choice to replace Fallon.

But Petraeus had already effectively taken over many of the powers of the CENTCOM commander last year.

As the top commander in Iraq, Petraeus was in theory beneath Fallon in the chain of command. But in reality Petraeus ignored Fallon's views and took orders directly from the White House. Petraeus was in effect playing the role of CENTCOM commander in regard to the twin issues of Iraq and Iran.

Fallon clashed with Petraeus repeatedly from the beginning of his command about the surge and U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Fallon opposed the surge and believed the U.S. should begin the withdrawal of most of its troops from Iraq. But he was effectively stymied by the close Petraeus-White House link from being able to influence U.S. military policy in Iraq and the region as a whole.

Fallon had also pushed very hard, according to a source familiar with his thinking, for trying to negotiate an agreement with Iran over innocent passage through the Strait of Hormuz in order to ease tensions caused by the U.S.-Iranian differences over the obligations of navy vessels transiting the Strait. But any such negotiations would have conflicted with the administration's emphasis on confrontation with Iran, and they weren't interested.

Petraeus revealed in his congressional testimony April 10 that he had already assumed some of the functions normally carried out by the CENTCOM commander in regard to relations with military leaders in the region. Petraeus said he had "actually gone to a couple of neighboring countries in an effort . . . to get at the networks, the countries in which they operate, and the sources of some of these foreign fighters."

In fact, the Associated Press reported, Petraeus had taken trips to five different Middle Eastern countries -- Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates -- since September 2007. That should have been Fallon's job, but the White House had apparently made it clear they wanted Petraeus -- not Fallon -- to undertake [the] missions.

It had become increasingly evident to Fallon that he was not really running things at CENTCOM, according to the source. Fallon's frustration about Petraeus' de facto power over Middle East policy was the main reason he was ready to step down.

But it was Fallon's refusal to accept the [fact] that the option of a military strike against Iran was still effectively on the table that led to serious tensions with the White House, as reported in Esquire magazine in early March. Fallon had evidently angered Cheney by suggesting publicly on three occasions between September and late November that a military strike against Iran had been ruled out by Washington.

Fallon's resignation announcement on March 11 was followed less than a week later by a ten-day Cheney trip to the Middle East in which the vice president talked explicitly about the military option against Iran during visits to Turkey and Saudi Arabia. That suggested that Cheney felt freer to wield the military threat to Iran with Fallon neutralized.

Cheney aggressively solicited political support from Turkish leaders for a U.S. strike against Iranian nuclear facilities during his visit to Turkey last month, according to a source familiar with Cheney's meeting in Ankara.

Cheney was "very aggressive" in asking Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, as well as Turkey's chief of general staff Gen. Yasar Bukyukanit, to get "on board" with such an attack, according to the source, who has access to reports from the Cheney visit.

Cheney indicated that Turkey had been added to the trip at the last minute, suggesting that the decision to visit Ankara was linked to the Fallon resignation.

After the meeting between Cheney and King Abdullah on the same trip, Saudi sources let it be known to the media that Abdullah had told Cheney that his government opposed any U.S. military strike against Iran. That suggested that Cheney had brought up the military option in Riyadh as well.

One of Cheney's main objectives on the trip appears to have been to get the message to Iran that the option of a strike against its nuclear facilities is still very much alive.

In an interview with Cheney while he was in Ankara, ABC News reporter Martha Raddatz commented, "[W]hen you come over here, people in the region start thinking you're over here to plan some sort of military action."

Cheney strongly implied that it was indeed the major objective of his trip. "Well, I think the important thing to keep in mind," he said, "is the objective that we share with many of our friends in the region, and that is that a nuclear-armed Iran would be very destabilizing for the entire area."

Petraeus has become the primary administration spokesman for the argument holding Iran primarily responsible for the Shi'ite military resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Petraeus and his staff developed the idea in early 2007 that Iran was using so-called "special groups" of renegade Mahdi Army fighters to wage a proxy war against U.S. forces.

In his testimony before congressional committees earlier this month, Petraeus declared that what he called the "special groups" allegedly organized and manipulated by Iran "pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq."



By Andrew Gray

April 23, 2008

WASHINGTON -- In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, U.S. generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno could hardly have seemed more different in approach. But they later formed a partnership that helped both land top jobs Wednesday.

The scholarly, wiry Petraeus had his troops working on politics and economics to revive the northern city of Mosul in 2003 while the giant, shaven-headed Odierno conducted tough combat operations around Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town.

Petraeus won widespread praise for his approach while Odierno faced criticism that his tactics drove local people into the arms of insurgents, although he insisted his sector was very different from Mosul and needed a robust approach.

The two men came together again in Iraq last year to implement a strategy that helped drive down violence and marked a change in image for Odierno as he stressed the importance of reconciliation and good governance to bring stability.

A former senior U.S. officer who has worked extensively with both men said Odierno's thinking had evolved. But he said Odierno was always a far more thoughtful officer than his formidable appearance might suggest.

"This guy has a degree in nuclear engineering," the former officer said. "One should not be confused by his size. Many have made that mistake."

Although critics have questioned whether the gains in Iraq are sustainable, both Petraeus and Odierno have won praise for helping pull the country from the brink of all-out civil war.

Petraeus, 55, has been chosen to become head of U.S. Central Command, the military headquarters that oversees operations in a swathe of countries across the Middle East and beyond including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

Just a couple of months after finishing a grueling 15-month tour in Baghdad as Petraeus' number two, Odierno, 53, has been selected to return to Iraq to take command there.


While Petraeus has enjoyed a high media profile since commanding the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, Odierno is less known to the general public.

But Defense Secretary Robert Gates described Odierno as "one of the most effective military leaders of his generation" at a ceremony in Baghdad in February to mark the end of his tenure as head of the Multi National Corps-Iraq.

"This Corps carried out a strategy that combined classic counterinsurgency principles with approaches that broke new ground in the history of warfare," Gates proclaimed.

Under Petraeus and Odierno, some 30,000 extra U.S. troops flowed into Iraq and U.S. forces combined aggressive operations against Islamist militants with greater efforts to provide security for Iraqi civilians.

Overall violence in Iraq dropped 60 percent from June of last year until fighting erupted late last month in the southern city of Basra.

Petraeus has urged caution in withdrawing troops. He told Congress earlier this month he wanted to freeze troop levels to take stock when the current round of withdrawals leaves about 140,000 U.S. military forces in Iraq at the end of July.

That approach looks likely to continue under Odierno, who has also warned repeatedly that withdrawing too quickly could threaten security gains.

Nathan Freier, a retired army lieutenant colonel who has known Odierno since the 1991 Gulf War, said he had developed a deep knowledge of Iraq almost unrivaled in the U.S. military that made him a strong choice for the top job.

"He displays a unique grasp of the complexity of the Iraqi theater," said Freier, who spent several months in Iraq last year as part of a small group advising Odierno.

"He draws the right people to advise him, draws from a very wide spectrum of viewpoints," added Freier, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

Freier said putting Odierno in charge of Iraq with Petraeus as his boss at Central Command meant the two men could build on the strong working relationship they developed in Baghdad.

"My sense is that the relationship was a very good one and that it worked very well," Freier said. "The relationship is just being taken one level higher now."