Sunday, September 16, 2007

More on the Fallon/Petraeus Thing

When I came out of semi-retirement, it was fated that Chap and I would likely resurrect our ongoing blog feud over the war.


Chap and some other mil-blogs have taken on the issue as to whether Admiral Fallon called General Petraeus an "ass-kissing little chickenshit." You can read Chap's first take on the matter here, my first comment, and then Chap's rebuttal.

Here's my next round:

{Chap wrote} What equally bizarre information are you using to expect that the cabinet-level appointee is expected and encouraged by the President to follow a different strategy than the President’s? Put in another way, what evidence do you have to think that this is so, since it flies in the face of what the military is about?
That bizarre information is American military and political history. The most accessible data to me are the pol-mil machinations of the Lincoln Administration and the Union Army. You can go read Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals among many other books to get a good idea of the infighting within the Lincoln administration. They did not speak with one voice; leaks, backstabbing, even an attempt to un-nominate Lincoln right before Atlanta fell were all part of the scene. Lincoln's lack of control, both in the military and political sense, of the Army is legendary and hardly needs to be rehashed. Other easily accessible examples are VP picks -- not done because the top guy loves 'em or is in agreement with him but historically done because it brings factions together -- JFK/LBJ, Ike/Dick, Carter/Mondale etc. Cabinet appointments are also are made with the notion of pleasing various disparate factions.

Our substitutes for parliamentary government are Presidencies which are quite frequently coalitions of different factions much as ruling majorities operate in parliamentary systems. The stronger the President's faction, the less he has to rely upon coalitions and sharing of power. The weaker the President's faction, say in the wake of a 2006 election where, to use his word, he took a "thumpin", the more concessions have to be made to other factions. In this particular case, the concession was to his father's faction, the global realists -- enter Bob Gates. Does Gates see the world in vastly different terms than the President? Don't think so. But his pivotal role and endorsement of the ISG and its findings put him squarely at odds with a president who did not want to change strategy. It is logical to assume that Gates would select people, like Fallon, to further his views in an attempt to rudder the administration towards ISG goals.

There's no slam at PAOs with the spokespuppet comment. I'm a spokespuppet and I tell my students that. The state of NC, the State Board of Education, the NC Dept of Public Instruction, all under the heavy influence of NC Citizens for Business and Industry, wrote the course of study I have to deliver and which my students are tested on and my school and district evaluated. But unlike the PAO, I have tenure and can mouth off about being a spokespuppet without real fear of retribution. He, on the other hand, has to follow orders, or so I've been told, or there are severe consequences in store.

Let's backtrack just a bit. I was remiss in my first comment to not mention the fact that there was a bit of corroboration outside the admittedly dubious Inter-Press News Service. And that corroboration came from the editorially neoconservative paper, The Washington Post, which reported on Sept 9th:
"The polite discussion in the White House Situation Room a week ago masked a sharper clash over the U.S. venture in Iraq, one that has been building since Fallon, chief of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees Middle East operations, sent a rear admiral to Baghdad this summer to gather information. Soon afterward, officials said, Fallon began developing plans to redefine the U.S. mission and radically draw down troops.

One of those plans, according to a Centcom officer, involved slashing U.S. combat forces in Iraq by three-quarters by 2010. In an interview, Fallon disputed that description but declined to offer details. Nonetheless, his efforts offended Petraeus's team, which saw them as unwelcome intrusion on their own long-term planning. The profoundly different views of the U.S. role in Iraq only exacerbated the schism between the two men.

"Bad relations?" said a senior civilian official with a laugh. "That's the understatement of the century. . . . If you think Armageddon was a riot, that's one way of looking at it."
Again, no direct confirmation of the slur, but corroboration of an environment from which it may have well sprung.

Ironically, I find the response Blackfive got from CENTCOM to be perhaps the most damning:
Thanks for your inquiry.

The story is inaccurate. Admiral Fallon and General Petraeus have an outstanding relationship.

LCDR Scott Miller
CENTCOM Public Affairs
That's a textbook non-denial denial. The story is "inaccurate?" How so? Did Fallon say General Petraeus was a "BIG......?" We have no idea. Why not categorically state that Admiral Fallon never uttered either the purported sentiment nor anything remotely like it? Outstanding relationship? First, what's that mean exactly? Second, I can have an excellent relationship with someone, especially someone I respect, get frustrated and/or disappointed with one of their actions or utterances and call them on it in harsh terms, and still have a good relationship. Good relationships don't preclude harsh words between comrades.

In spite of all the space I've burned, I don't think this is the main issue. What is the issue is a man of most excellent reputation and service being placed in a horrible situation, both militarily and politically. General Petraeus has not only been asked to pick up the pieces of a failed military policy, he has been ordered to stand in for the President as a spokesman for the war, not unlike the LCDR at CENTCOM, to defend a policy he would not appear to endorse 100%.

And has that happened before?
"Several factors kept the chiefs from challenging the president’s subterfuges. The Professional code of the military officer prohibits him or her from engaging in political activity. Actions that could have undermined the administration’s credibility and derail its ... policy could not have been undertaken lightly.

The president was lying, and he expected the chiefs to lie as well or, at least, to withhold the whole truth. Although the president should not have placed the chiefs in that position, the flag officers should not have tolerated it when he had."
That would be from one Colonel H.R. McMaster, current adviser to General Petraeus, from his Dereliction of Duty, a commentary on Vietnam. Col. McMaster has been passed over twice for promotion to Brigadier General in the past two years but one shouldn't infer anything from that as there is never anything to see; we should all just move along since Machiavelli has been rendered inoperative in the American armed forces.

Chap updates here & here.

I respond back here.