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17th September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 pm

What You Might Have Missed: Petraeus/Odierno


We’re trying out a new feature here at Undip:  “What You Might Have Missed,” which will highlight stories that other stories have kept off the front page.

BAGHDAD - SEPTEMBER 16:  Outgoing commander Ge...Today, it’s the transfer of authority from Gen. David Petraeus to Gen. Ray Odierno in Baghdad.  Petraeus will now head Central Command, which oversees all U.S. military activity from Egypt to Pakistan, an arc that includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What I find particularly interesting about this story is that Petraeus and Odierno had completely different approaches to the occupation of Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the invasion.  When Petraeus led the 101st Airborne, he was praised for applying counterinsurgency doctrine in Mosul in a way that helped keep the region calm — until he left.

In Mosul, a city of nearly two million people, Petraeus and the 101st employed classic counterinsurgency methods to build security and stability, including conducting targeted kinetic operations and using force judiciously, jump-starting the economy, building local security forces, staging elections for the city council within weeks of their arrival, overseeing a program of public works, reinvigorating the political process, and launching 4,500 reconstruction project. . . . [I]n the book Fiasco, Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks wrote that “Mosul was quiet while he (Petraeus) was there, and likely would have remained so had his successor had as many troops as he had–and as much understanding of counterinsurgency techniques.” Ricks went on to note that “the population-oriented approach Petraeus took in Mosul in 2003 would be the one the entire U.S. Army in Iraq was trying to adopt in 2006.”

Contrast that with Odierno’s time commanding the 4th Infranty Division during the same period:

Odierno’s tenure as 4th ID commander in Iraq and his unit’s actions there have subsequently come under criticism from several sources. Many officers from the 1st Marine Division were critical of 4th ID’s belligerent stance during their initial entry into Iraq after the ground war had ceased and the unit’s lack of a ‘hearts and minds’ approach to counter-insurgency. Several authors have echoed similar criticisms shared with them by other military personnel in the theater. In his unit’s defense Odierno strenuously argued that the situation was that such an approach was required and subsequent insurgent activity justified the actions of 4th ID as former insurgents began to join the fight against Islamic extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda, in 2007.

To this day, Odierno rejects these arguments, saying that the situation then required an aggressive approach.  That said, Odierno did spend the past few years helping Petraeus craft the surge, and it’s doubtful that Petraeus would support the choice of someone he thought could not build on his success.

There’s an old saying in sports that you’re much better off being the guy who replaces the guy who replaced the legend.  Odierno doesn’t have that luxury.  If he fails, he may find that he’s on a short leash, as Petraeus, Gates, and Bush are unlikely to let Iraq to fall back into chaos.

Photo: Outgoing commander Gen. David Petraeus hands over the Multi-National Force Iraq flag to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates as Gen. Ray Odierno looks on during a Change of Command ceremony at Camp Victory on September 16, 2008 in Baghdad, Iraq. David Petraeus, the American general who presided during “The Surge”, the increase in American military presence believed to have been critical to reduced violence in the beleaguered country, handed over his command today to Gen. Ray Odierno. (Getty Images via Daylife)

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 17th, 2008 at 6:45 pm and is filed under foreign policy, war & rumors of war. It is tagged under , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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