February 06, 2008

Four Stars for Odierno

LTG Ray Odierno has been nominated to be the U.S. Army's next vice chief of staff and to pin on his fourth star, the Washington Post reports. Good for him, and good for the U.S. Army.

In some accounts of the first years of the Iraq War -- most notably, Tom Ricks's Fiasco -- Odierno comes across as a real villain. And some units under his command -- notably, the unit stationed in Samarra -- did in fact earn notorious reputations in the early years of the war. For a long time, Abu Muqawama tended to accept the common narrative that portrayed Odierno as some caveman unable to adapt to the complex realities of Iraq. When he got his third star, Abu Muqawama cynically mused it must have had something to do with his service under Sec. Rumsfeld.

But others felt Ricks's portrayal of Odierno was too harsh, too black-and-white, and what is clear is that in the past year while serving under Petraeus, Odierno has emerged as a capable counterinsurgent. Abu Muqawama has spoken with several senior commanders in the past few months who have all spoken highly of Odierno's performance, and what everyone seems to agree upon is that Odierno's real strength comes from the sheer force of will he brings to the COIN fight in Iraq. If Petraeus has the grand vision, Odierno is the guy who forces that vision down the throats of reluctant one-star and two-star generals.

Odierno has also, some say, been humbled by the complexities of Iraq and the experiences of his son, Tony. Tony, a rifle platoon leader in Iraq, sent back reports to his dad on what the war was like for a small-unit leader before being horribly wounded in an RPG ambush. (He lost his left arm.)

So Abu Muqawama greets the news of LTG Odierno's new appointment with a contrite smile. When the final histories of America's experience in Iraq are written, Odierno's personal journey might speak volumes about the evolution the U.S. Army has gone through as an institution.