By Freedom Newspapers
President Bush late last week made significant changes in both his foreign-policy team and his top military commanders. The question is whether he is clearing the decks for action or rearranging the deck chairs.
Given that President Bush is tentatively scheduled to unveil his latest strategy for the war in Iraq on Wednesday, the appointments look like preparation for moving to a new phase, a new way forward, if you will, with the people the president now believes are the right people in place to execute the plan.
Let’s start with the military changes. Gen. George Casey, the top military commander in Iraq, and Gen. John Abizaid, head of the Central Command (which encompasses the entire Middle East and more), have both expressed skepticism about the idea of a “surge” in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq without a very specific mission that can be measured and accomplished. Easing them out suggests the president has decided on a surge and doesn’t want skeptics in charge.
Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, slated to be promoted to replace Gen. Casey, served two tours in Iraq and helped to oversee the drafting of the military’s new manual on counterinsurgency. That suggests familiarity with Iraq and perhaps a shift to more aggressive action against various insurgents.
Adm. William Fallon, slated to become the top man at Central Command, may seem an unusual choice, given that the action is on the ground. But he commanded a carrier group during the first Persian Gulf war. Does his appointment suggest a renewed emphasis on naval forces, which would seem most useful in deterring or neutralizing Iran?
John Negroponte’s move from director of intelligence, a Cabinet-level position with daily access to the president, to deputy secretary of state, a sub-Cabinet job, seems curious. Some news stories suggest he was frustrated at not being able to get a handle on the 16 fractious intelligence agencies of which he was nominally in charge. Others suggest that many, including people at the top level of the White House, were frustrated at his lack of executive and administrative ability.
Whether the move came at his request or the president’s, the No. 2 job at State seems to better fit his career-diplomat profile, especially if he is slated to be the de facto secretary of state, handling most of the substantive work while Condoleezza Rice does the ceremonial tasks. Having been the first post-Saddam ambassador to Iraq suggests some familiarity with the problems there.
The appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad, current ambassador to Iraq, to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has been rumored for weeks.
If the pieces are in place for a temporary increase in U.S. troops, that increase had better be accompanied by fairly dramatic changes in strategy. Sending more people to do more of the same is a formula for failure