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McChrystal Out, Petraeus In

Story  here.

Watch the statement by the President here.

David Petraeus is best qualified but not the only qualified replacement. Hard to see how this is not also technically a demotion for General Petraeus unless he is going to wear three hats as CENTCOM combatant commander, US commander in Afghanistan and head of ISAF. Perhaps the Senate will insist on that, it has been done before on the civilian side at State and the NSC when Thomas C. Mann held three critical Latin American policy posts for LBJ during the Dominican Crisis of ’65. Kissinger, of course, was both Secretary of State and National Security Adviser  under Richard Nixon for a time. Wonder why Mattis or Rodriguez were not moved up?

Marshall considered stepping down from his Chief of staff post (really a Supreme Military Allied Chief of Staff in practice) to become the commander of D-Day but ultimately he went with Ike, though field command at Normandy had been his heart’s desire.

Good luck General Petraeus.


Thomas Ricks also speculates on Petraeus as triple CENTCOM -Afghanistan/ISAF commander. This would probably placate NATO, Pakistan and Karzai, all of whom were nervous about McChrystal’s departure and reduce the number of Senate confirmation hearings required and get complete unity of command. However very capable deputies and “systems” need to be in place in each command for Petraeus to play orchestra conductor effectively instead of being a fire brigade.

About the worst possible administrative result would be Petraeus being replaced at CENTCOM by an unknown flag officer without direct command experience in Iraq or Afghanistan who fears to take any initiative, while additional civilian political operatives from the Executive branch are granted vague “czar” roles to meddle erratically in AfPak policy outside of Defense and State channels. Just enough chefs to burn down the kitchen.


SWJ publisher Bill Nagle says Petraeus will not will not ultimately wear both hats:

Interesting if predictable developments today with GEN McChrystal being relieved by President Obama.  Er, I’m sorry, resigning.  And certainly an interesting move with GEN Petraeus being promoted, er, demoted, er, reasssigned – yeah, that’s it, reassigned.  That strikes me as a wise move, all the more so because of the explicit statement that the rest of the CENTCOM job will not be his, too.  It’s not like that’s an easy enough job alone and we need to get more mileage out of that particular 4 star billet.

I think there will be tough questions about AfPak strategy and who has what authority in a constellation of bigwigs during Senate confirmation hearing regardless if Petraeus keeps both jobs or if there’s another nominee.


Dr. Barnett says two-hats or one hat, Petraeus is now “untouchable“.

19 Responses to “McChrystal Out, Petraeus In”

  1. Adrian Says:

    Mattis was apparently pissed about not getting Marine Commandant and didn’t want to clean up somebody else’s mess (according to Marc Ambinder).  Rodriguez would have the same problems as McChrystal, as apparently the whole crew ("Team America") had problems.

  2. onparkstreet Says:

    Political? Petraeus has a "rock-star" reputation with much of the general public and it makes the transition (at such a critical juncture) seem less scary to the layperson? Avoiding Republican criticism? Dunno.
    – Madhu

  3. onparkstreet Says:

    Oh yeah, and Good luck General.
    – Madhu (he makes some members of the Indian (online and off) punditry nervous though, re: Pakistan.)

  4. Joseph Fouche Says:

    Petraeus is the correct choice. He combines political, military, and diplomatic acuity. He’s more in the Eisenhower mold than the Patton mode which is probably a plus when you’re waging a politically intensive war.

    Not to mention the fact that it acts as a political preemptive strike against Petraeus just in case he harbors cleverly disguised political ambitions.

  5. Purpleslog Says:

    Wow. I suppose the three hats could work. Grant was General-in-Chief but he went into the field as the de-facto commander of the Army of the Potomac. That was a different age though. I was hoping for Mattis, but this is okay.

    But…the US has still lost the Influence War in Afghanistan. Is there any signal that President Obama has become willing to take more time for victory? I don’t suppose Petraeus would have taken the job otherwise (that might be wishful thinking on my part).

    I think my plan from 12/2009 still holds up [1] with minor wording changes:

    0) Bring up the combat force Level
    1) Employ 3-D Maneuver to kick the Ass of enemy formations and strongholds that dare to exist
    2) Deep Predator (and Manned Bomber) strikes based on Sigint and Humint
    3) Full Spectrum Influence Warfare to make Taliban/Al-Qada appear as: silly, weak, ridiculous, evil, non-Islamic, tools of the Iranians, boy-lovers, goat-lovers, tools of the Chinese, of high mortality, hypocritical
    4) SysAdmin work to clean up the place and train the Afghan Army and Police
    5) Influence Warfare to keep the USA/West domestic opposition at bay: Perhaps lots of photos, videos, and audio of Taliban/Al-Qada atrocities and positive first person Afghan accounts
    6) Repeat steps 1 through 5 until Mission Complete (Taliban/Al-Qada as nusance and/or just a small narco-crime movement)

  6. Lexington Green Says:

    "…he went with Ike…"

    Not exactly.  FDR went with Ike.  Marshall had been led to believe that he would command the invasion, then FDR dropped that idea by saying he needed Marshall with him in DC.  Stalin forced FDR’s hand by insisting that a commander be named for the planned invasion.  FDR would have kept it open longer if he could have.  FDR never showed his cards, so we will never know what his calculation was when he made the decision.  My theory is that he was hedging his bets.  If D-Day failed, Eisenhower would be relieved.  There would be a total disaster to clean up, then planning and leading a second try.  My theory has always been that FDR kept Marshall back because he wanted him in DC, as he said, but also because he is the only person who could gotten off the plane in England on June 7 or 8, after the bloody repulse of the invasion, and and had the personal authority and commanding presence to get people to wipe the blood off and start all over again. 

    Petraeus is a little like Marshall.  I wonder if he fainted in front of the Senate because he knew this was going to happen.  I suppose it is like U.S.Grant salvaging and then winning in the West, then being tapped to take over in the East. 

    I think McChrystal may have won the game by his sacrifice out.   Petraeus will be able to insist on and get the assets he needs, plus a longer timetable.  That is a guess at this point.  Let’s see what happens.  Population-centric COIN certainly cannot be done if you tell your would-be friends as well as the enemy that you are leaving on a date certain, and soon.  The Obama split-the-baby approach (surge + announced deadline) was a certain loser.  Maybe Petraeus will be able to get a workable reset. 

    I sure would not want his job. 

  7. Purpleslog Says:

    Heh – "I wonder if he fainted in front of the Senate because he knew this was going to happen."

    I got to think he would not have taken the job unless he has time to "win".

  8. Joseph Fouche Says:

    " I wonder if he fainted in front of the Senate because he knew this was going to happen."No. I think that was more in the vein of an old Far Side cartoon: Petraeus played dead until Carl Levin felt awkward and adjourned the hearing.An excellent strategy that should be used more often with our elected officials.

  9. Smitten Eagle Says:

    Another potential pitfall is what this could mean for Civil-Military Relations. Petraeus is unquestionably the most powerful general officer since MacArthur–or possibly Eisenhower.  Both of those men accrued much more political power than any American general was ever meant to have under our separation-of-powers scheme.  It’ll be interesting to see how this goes.
    Also, Petraeus is a rock star…he arguably managed to take credit for "saving" Iraq. But his personal history isn’t all glowing.  His work leading the training mission in Iraq probably leaves something to be desired, although he has managed to get almost everybody to ignore his failings.  He is also reputed to be an incredibly ambitious (in a negative way), and vein man.
    I hope this goes well.
    Semper Fidelis,

  10. Joseph Fouche Says:

    This Doug MacGregor lecture/Q&A from the Pritzker Military Library is an extended attack on David Petraeus. MacGregor’s attacks range from swipes at officers who serve as aide de camps to nepotism for officers who are related to generals to an unflattering account of a conversation MacGregor had with Petraeus just before the left hook was launched in Operation Desert Storm. MacGregor obviously has his brief to argue (he seems to see COIN as a conspiracy by the light infantry faction within the Army against the armor faction) but it may contain seeds of reality, if you were a large fly on the wall.

  11. Lexington Green Says:

    People who reach four star rank are smart, focused, ambitious, driven people.  There cannot be an exception to this.  Driven, ambitious people make enemies, and often lack other virtues, and show a notable lack of concern about what people think about them unless those people can help or hurt them.  Linda Robinson’s depiction of Petraeus in her book Tell Me How This Ends struck me as fair.  The question is only whether that drive and ambition are in the service of some greater good — Washington, Grant, Marshall — or personal glory.  So far in America we have not had any serious efforts by any general to be a Napoleon.   

  12. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    Always in America there is a looking-back.  This happens in other domains as well, but most especially when looking at or within the
    military domain, from the outside or from the inside.

    This thread is rife with it: MacArthur, Eisenhower, Grant, FDR, Marshall, Patton, Washington, and now Napoleon.  Always with the neat boxes and categories; it is granted that McChrystal is a square peg and Petraeus a star, and the search for the proper hole begins.

    This tendency is just as prevalent when theories of warfare are discussed or, that is, when the quaint names for strategy paradigms (such as "COIN") are discussed — one begins to wonder if there really is a magic bag that contains the dozen or so paradigms that are the only paradigms any general could ever need.  Although similarly a looking-back, this instance is the more tragic. Generals will display themselves over time exactly as they are (rarely true reincarnations of the Past) but strategies display themselves immediately and all too often really do end up matching their paradigmatic parameters. 

  13. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    Grant that by "this thread" I mean this and an other recent, related discussion here at ZP. 

  14. Lexington Green Says:

    CGW:  No.

    You told us in 177 to ignore the past, don’t use categories to understand the present, and that the actual facts as they develop will diverge from any paradigm.  The last is a axiomatic.  You are fighting a straw man.  No one thinks that paradigms or models or categories will exactly match any real-world phenomenon.  The first two are obviously wrong.  You always look for similar events in the past as some guide, because that is all you have to work with.  You also have to use categories to make sense of the infinity of data that are streaming in, otherwise you are swamped in the differences between each snowflake.  The question is only whether your historical analogies and your categories are accurate and helpful or not.  Making that assessment is an interative process, which you are constantly revisiting as the torrent of data streams in.  Your comment is apparently a 5GW attack which tries to change the framework of the conversation so that all the people talking to each other realize some profound new insight … but you fail to tell us what that insight is. 

  15. Lexington Green Says:

    177 words. 

  16. Eddie Says:

    LG, Jaffe and Cloud’s "The Fourth Star" has a few illuminating details about Petraeus and many more about three other generals (Casey, Abiziad, Chiarelli) whose paths and fortunes crossed in Iraq. More than most, 4 stars, Petraeus has some seriously pathological critics in the ranks who resent everything he has done because of what he’s gotten away with, what he’s accomplished, and how he’s gone about achieving his goals.

  17. Seerov Says:

    I took me a couple days to figure this McCrystal-Rolling Stone business out.  From the best I can tell, the power structure is having second thoughts about Obama.  They thought they’d be able to just smash the multicult managerial state into the people with a prototypical multicult "new man" who would "inspire" the people with his oratory.   Unforchantly the post-racial era is as racial as ever.
    So I expect McCrystal to become involved in politics to push through what Obama couldn’t.  This whole Rolling Stone affair was intended to be theater to set up the two camps for 2010.  Its a lot easier for McCrystal to "crack down" on radicals at home than Obama.  McCrysital can make the argument that "diversity is the most important aspect of ‘Merca’," and start a "war on hate" and potential threats to the elites at home. 
    This doesn’t mean we won’t have our adventures overseas.  This "War on Hate" can easily spread to the Russians (or other Europeans), as both Leftists and Neocons can both come to an agreement when it comes to hating on European Christian nations (Especially Germans and Russians).  But there has to be someone to lead ‘Merca against these "forces of intolerance" and McCrystal is better suited for this than Obama.  When a Republican is in Office, the Right goes to sleep in America.  The borders were just as open during Bush than they are now (probably less so now because of economy).  
    So in conclusion: Even after 40 years of negative conditioning and pro-multicult conditioning, the "Middle American" masses still won’t go along with their dislocation.  So the next phase is to bring in a strong man to do it. 
    We’ll have to wait for 2012?

  18. Seerov Says:

    Corrections above: 2010 should be 2012.
    The sentence:  "McCrystal can make the argument that "diversity is the most important aspect of ‘Merca’," and start a "war on hate" and potential threats to the elites at home."
    is supposed to read:  "McCrysital can make the argument that "diversity is the most important aspect of ‘Merca’," and start a "war on hate" against potential threats to the elites at home."

  19. dagezhu Says:

    McCrysital can make the argument that "diversity is the most important aspect of ‘Merca’,"

    Well, he can spout that kind of rhetoric, which would be not unlike the elder Bush talking about "compassion."

    I would be more convinced if he said, "Obama was never really a manager, whereas I managed military forces."

    But since both left and right candidates are merely puppets for big money, does it matter whether the puppet is on the right hand or the left?

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