January 21, 2008

Petraeus to NATO?

The NYT is reporting some RUMINT that Charlie has been hearing for a while now: that GEN Petraeus may follow up his tour in Iraq with a stint as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (aka, SACEUR). That's still the most wicked cool billet name in all of the American military. (It also doubles as the head of European Command.)

In one approach under discussion, General Petraeus would be nominated and confirmed for the NATO post before the end of September, when Congress is expected to break for the presidential election. He might stay in Iraq for some time after that before moving to the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, but would take his post before a new president takes office.

There are, however, some good reasons for concern about moving GEN Petraeus out of Iraq before his work there is done:

General Petraeus “should stay at least through this year,” said Anthony Cordesman, a military specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We really need military continuity in command during this period in which we can find out whether we can transition from tactical victory to some form of political accommodation.

“We have in Petraeus and Crocker the first effective civil-military partners we have had in this war,” Mr. Cordesman added, referring to Ryan C. Crocker, the United States ambassador in Baghdad. Gen. George W. Casey Jr., General Petraeus’s predecessor, served nearly three years in the top Iraq job before becoming Army chief of staff.

Cordesman's last point--about effective civ-mil cooperation--is vastly more important that most analysts realize. For all the institutional changes that need to occur for the US to fight COIN campaigns well, it really does come down to guys on the ground getting along and seeing the same big picture (see, for example, the Khalilzad-Barno years in Afghanistan). That we may upset such a good working relationship should give us pause.

But it shouldn't prevent the move. Good money is on LTG Peter Chiarelli taking the MNF-I spot next (though LTG Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of the classified Special Operations activities in Iraq is running a close second). And though Charlie is a little uncomfortable with the latter's door-knocking, direct action orientation, she could make intellectual peace with either. More importantly, GEN Petraeus' move to NATO would allow him to influence events in Afghanistan, which at times seems to be slipping through our fingers. It would also give him a chance to once again interact with Marine 4-star Gen James Mattis whose second hat at JFCOM is SACT--Supreme Allied Commander Transformation.

Charlie's pretty sure Gen Mattis was slotted there to allow him to work Afghanistan issues. There's a good chance that GEN Petraeus posting to EUCOM would allow him to do the same. Fingers crossed.

(PS It's not a typo that Charlie alternates between GEN and Gen for Army and Marine generals. The services all have different standards for abbreviating the ranks, with the Army opting for lots of capital letters, thus LTC and LTG instead of LtCol and LtGen. She herself is a little OCD and feels compelled to observe their respective abbreviations.)