Saturday, July 28, 2007

Generals Have to be Politicians, But They Need to be Diplomats

[Cross-posted from Watching Those We Chose]

The relationship between General David Petraeus and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kemal al-Maliki is so strained that Mr. Maliki may ask Washington to withdraw the general.

Mr. Maliki, a Shi’ite, is a seemingly reluctant leader. He spent years in exile during the Hussein regime, and he vociferously protests arming Sunni insurgents under the guise of “fighting al Qa’eda.” His loud complaining has come to little – It has resulted in a pledge by U.S. forces to let al Maliki’s security vet the recruits. Aids say he complains bitterly about delivery delays of promised materiel.

And while he is at loggerheads with Petraeus, the United States forges ahead with the arming of Sunni Sheiks.

In short, al-Maliki is feeling put upon and unduly burdened, and not entirely without justification.

From Air Force Times

Petraeus says his ties with al-Maliki are “very good” but acknowledges expressing “the full range of emotions” on “a couple of occasions.”

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who meets together with al-Maliki and Petraeus at least weekly, concedes “sometimes there are sporty exchanges.”

Al-Maliki has spoken sharply — not of Petraeus or Crocker personally — but about their tactic of welcoming Sunni militants into the fight against al-Qaida forces in Anbar and Diyalah provinces.

As for Petraeus, he really is facing a nightmare scenario. The Iraqi police and military forces are only nominally under the control of al Maliki, and in many cases those forces act not in the interest of the Iraqi government, but in sectarian – that is to say Shi’ite – interests. In addition, al Maliki has proven unwilling to cut his ties to fundamentalist Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who controls the Mahdi Army militia.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Ryan Crocker has his own issues with the stagnation of the political process. (Imagine. The Iraqi parliament is not bending over backwards to meet externally set benchmarks.) Crocker can not continue to insist that American G.I.’s are fighting and dying to give the Maliki government “breathing room” when al Maliki either can not or will not make an opportunity from it.

The ambassador, one of the State Department’s most seasoned Middle East diplomats, appeared to be genuinely fond of al-Maliki and profoundly understanding of the Iraqi leader’s troubles.

“We are dealing with existential issues. There are no second tier problems ... so there is a lot of pressure. And we all feel very deeply about we’re trying to get done. So yeah, sometimes there are sporty exchanges,” he said.

“And believe me I’ve had my share of them. That in no way means, in my view, strained relations. I have great admiration for Prime Minister Maliki, and I know General Petraeus does as well. And I like to think it is reciprocal. Wrestling with the things we’re all wrestling with here, it would almost be strange if you didn’t get a little passionate from time to time.”

Generals, who obtain flag rank and continue to advance with presidential and congressional approval, are politicians. Get your head around that fact. To advance to O-4 takes a degree of political acumen (well – it used to, and it will again) and to go beyond O-4 – you have to display the appropriate political ability; and you have a career.

That’s how it works, in a nutshell.

Generals aren’t just politicians. They are also perpetually fighting the last war. Newsflash fellas – Desert ≠ Jungle. (And by the way, it was stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid to deemphasize counterinsurgency after Vietnam like that was an anomaly, ya morons.)

I would like to say that that is all well and good; but I can’t because it isn’t.

All sides spoke with the critical September reports by Crocker and Petraeus to Congress clearly at the front of their minds — the need to make it clear to an increasingly hostile U.S. legislative branch that progress is being made and it would be wrong to start pulling out troops and cutting support now.

It will be a tough sell, but not for lack of getting their views before the public in advance of walking into Congressional committee rooms about seven weeks from now.

In 4-G warfare, what Generals really need are not so much political skills, but Diplomatic skills.

This is, apparently, not a gift that David Petraeus possesses or that the Army engenders.

Keep this in mind. September is right around the corner.

This is it. They do not get any more Friedmans.

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