THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 17, 2007
The nature of military leadership is congenital optimism; officers are trained to complete the mission, to refuse to countenance the possibility of failure. That focus is essential when you go to war, but it lacks perspective. That's why civilian leaders--the Commander in Chief--are there to set the mission, to change or abort it when necessary. The trouble is, George W. Bush's credibility on Iraq is nonexistent. And so he has placed David Petraeus, an excellent soldier, in a position way above his pay grade. He has made Petraeus not just the arbiter of Iraq strategy but also, by default, the man who sets U.S. policy for the entire so-called war on terrorism.
The cleverness of Bush's strategy was apparent when Senator Russ Feingold asked Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker a very important question: Which should have the higher priority in the war against al-Qaeda, Iraq or the rebuilt al-Qaeda leadership and terrorist camps, festering on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border? Feingold had forced Crocker, the elusive former ambassador to Pakistan, into a corner and then, inexplicably, let him off the hook and turned to Petraeus, who rightly claimed a lack of knowledge or authority to answer that question. The nonanswer stood as the Bush Administration's response to an essential strategic issue.
Maybe the next time Bush sends Petraeus to the Hill, Democrats--to say nothing of MoveOn--will take a different approach to dealing with him.