Small Wars Journal

General Petraeus Gets CENTCOM (Updated)

The Associated Press is reporting that General David Petraeus, Commanding General Multi-National Force - Iraq, has been named as the next commander of U.S. Central Command.

Army Gen. David Petraeus, the four-star general who led troops in Iraq for the past year, will be nominated by President Bush to be the next commander of U.S. Central Command, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.

Gates said he expected Petraeus to make the shift in late summer or early fall. The Pentagon chief also announced that Bush will nominate Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno to replace Petraeus in Baghdad...

At a hastily arranged Pentagon news conference, Gates said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other problems in the Central Command area of responsibility, demand knowledge of how to fight counterinsurgencies as well as other unconventional conflicts.

"I don't know anybody in the U.S. military better qualified to lead that effort," he said, referring to Petraeus...

Selected Quotes:

Max Boot (Commentary's Contentions): Odierno spent the year from early 2007 to early 2008 working closely with Petraeus to supervise the implementation of the surge. They were by far the most successful team of commanders we have had in Iraq--potentially the Grant/Sherman or Eisenhower/Patton of this long conflict. Yet there was a strong impetus back in DC to break up the winning combination--as seen in Odierno's rotation home earlier this year and in persistent rumors that Petraeus would be sent to NATO. That is something I warned against in a January post, in which I suggested that a better move would be to send Petraeus to Centcom and Odierno to MNFI. But, based on his track record, I knew I could not necessarily count on the President doing the right thing. Now he has. That gives us a chance to build on the initial success of the surge in the challenging months that lie ahead.

Shawn Brimley (Democracy Arsenal): First, it clearly reflects a desire for some continuity in Iraq over the presidential transition -- this is a good thing. With Ambassador Crocker retiring in early 2009, this will ensure that at least the top military commander in Iraq will stay consistent through the transition. Wartime transitions are inherently dangerous, and I'm glad Gates and Co. are thinking this through.

Phil Carter (Intel Dump): After ousting Adm. William "Fox" Fallon for various sins, Gates tapped his top Iraq commander to run the organization responsible for both of America's wars and a bunch of other hotspots. As my friends at Abu Muqawama note, the challenge will be for Petraeus to command CENTCOM in a way that embraces all of these places, and shows no improper preference for Iraq (although Iraq is the main effort for CENTCOM, so some preference will be natural). Another challenge will be for Petraeus to sustain himself and his staff in yet another grueling assignment. Granted, he'll be home-based in Tampa, Fla., but I don't imagine he'll spend much time there.

Charlie (Abu Muqawama): General David Petraeus has been tapped to replace Admiral Fox Fallon at Centcom. But CNN buries the lead: the real story is that LTG Odierno is headed back to Iraq to replace Petraeus.

Abu Muqawama (Abu Muqawama): Abu Muqawama respectfully disagrees with Charlie that the big story here is Odierno moving to Iraq. Abu Muqawama has no problem with this and thinks he's an okay choice at this stage in the conflict. The big story is Petraeus moving to CENTCOM. Why? Because aside from the president, no one man is more closely associated with the war in Iraq than General David Petraeus. America's success or failure in Iraq will largely determine his legacy.

Tom Barnett (Thomas PM Barnett): But overall, good for the military change process and good for the COIN vector. If Petraeus goes from CENTCOM to the CJCS, which many will now anticipate all the more, depending on his perceived success in this post, then he logically ends up as the pivotal player in military's post-9/11 evolution, eclipsing Schoomaker and Rumsfeld by a ways. His career trajectory thus contradicting the "one-off" school of thought on Iraq.

Richard Fernandez (The Belmont Club): More important than his battlefield successes in Iraq may be the implied victory in Pentagon politics that his nomination to CENTCOM chief suggests. It's important to remember that before the Surge, Petraeus' ideas were on the margin. Now they are in the mainstream.

William Kristol (Weekly Standard Blog): The allegedly lame duck Bush administration has--if this report is correct--hit a home run. CENTCOM is the central theater of the war on terror, and the president is putting our best commander in charge of it. What Odierno achieved as day-to-day commander in Iraq was amazing (see Fred and Kim Kagan's article, "The Patton of Counterinsurgency"), and he's clearly the right choice for MNFI. Bush has done the right thing, overriding opposition from within the Pentagon. He deserves congratulations--and thanks.

Spencer Ackerman (Washington Independent): Terrence Daly, a retired Army officer and long-time mentor to many counterinsurgency theorists, considered the appointment auspicious for both the course of both ground wars -- though not necessarily for the rise of counterinsurgency within a military often reluctant to embrace it. "This moves Petraeus into an important post from where he will be able to oversee the prosecution of both of our major counterinsurgencies, Afghanistan and Iraq," Daly said. "It moves him away from the Army, however, where he was regarded as a possible successor to Gen. George Casey as chief of staff of the Army; and, unlike Casey who wants to take the Army back to the emphasis on conventional fire and maneuver warfare, one who would carry out far-reaching reforms to enable it to deal with COIN [counterinsurgency] more effectively."

SWJ Comment: Commentary addressing the need for continuity is spot on -- but this goes beyond the benefits afforded the US presidential transition come January. The "bigger" transition - the successful handoff of security responsibility to a government of Iraq that can govern its people and territory -- is proceeding and requires US military and diplomatic leadership experienced and well-versed in the complex operational environment we call Iraq.

While General Petraeus to CENTCOM and General Odierno to MNF-I provide the military continuity -- the wild card is the diplomatic continuity. With Ambassador Crocker's retirement and a change at the top of our diplomatic leadership -- both in January -- the time is now to address the "all instruments of national power" requirements to see this thing through.

The writing is on the wall -- once the drawdown of Coalition military forces begins in earnest there is no turning back -- no operational pauses -- no new surges.


Petraeus-Odierno Team Nominated to Lead in CentCom, Iraq - AFPS

Petraeus Picked to Lead Mideast Command - Washington Post

New Jobs Set for 2 Generals With Iraq Role - New York Times

Petraeus Tapped for Central Command - Washington Times

Petraeus Promotion Ensures Continuation - Los Angeles Times

Petraeus to Be Nominated to Lead CENTCOM - New York Times

Promoted Petraeus to Leave Iraq - The Australian

Petraeus Set for Central Command - BBC News

Gen. Petraeus Picked to Lead Iraq, Afghan Wars - Reuters

Odierno 'Best' Choice for Iraq Post - USA Today

Battlefield Promotions - Wall Street Journal

Grand Slam: Petraeus Moves Up - New York Post

Petraeus Wins - The Atlantic

Why Petraeus? - Westhawk

Republicans Hail Petraeus Selection - The Hill

Army Musical Chairs - Intel Dump

Petraeus Nominated CENTCOM CINC - The Belmont Club

Impressions on Military Shifts - Democracy Arsenal

Petraeus Gets Promotion; Odierno Gets Iraq - Danger Room

Better for America... - Thomas PM Barnett

General Petraeus To CENTCOM - Threats Watch

Changes for Petraeus and Odierno - The Captain's Journal

Petraeus to CENTCOM - Abu Muqawama

CENTCOM is Not IRAQCOM - Abu Muqawama

Petraeus to CENTCOM - Weekly Standard Blog

Petraeus' Ascension - Washington Independent


Schmedlap (not verified)

Thu, 04/24/2008 - 12:25am

Now that GEN Petraeus is a household name, I wonder if this will translate into the media continuing to give substantial attention to his comments. If so, it will be interesting to see how he characterizes the larger regional issues.

I'm all for continuity and promoting on the basis of demonstrated leadership ability, but why shuffle the deck now?

Tom Barnett writes, <I>"If Petraeus goes from CENTCOM to the CJCS, which many will now anticipate all the more, depending on his perceived success in this post..."</I>

Wow, that's really leaning forward. GEN Petraeus hasn't even made this transition and we're already predicting the next. CJCS appointments generally last 4 years, with GEN Pace being a deviation from the norm. That puts ADM Mullen's targeted end date at late 2011. GEN Petraeus would need to serve over 3.5 years as CENTCOM CINC for those dates to line up, unless he gets a lengthy vacation prior to the CJCS appointment. Only 1 CINC has served more than 3 years since its inception.

However, it makes more sense than the alternative theory that a retired GEN Petraeus will be announcing his candidacy for President by then.