by Victor Davis Hanson
NRO’s The Corner
Light amid Darkness
It is crazy to think that going back from Centcom to forces commander in Afghanistan is any sort of “demotion” for Petraeus, who quite naturally needed some sort of respite after the ordeal of endless 20-hour days in Iraq. He is at the top of army rank, and there is a long tradition that theater command at the front is the preferred assignment. That’s why Marshall wanted Eisenhower’s SHAEF job, and the latter did not want the former’s; and why today we talk of Grant and Sherman, but not Halleck the owl who nominally oversaw and coordinated Union movements. Ridgway was the man of the hour in 1951, not Collins as Army chief of staff or any of the ranking Joint Chiefs who nominally oversaw him.
If Obama will seize the day, he has an opportunity to refocus on Afghanistan with renewed emphasis — asking Eikenberry, Holbrooke, (and perhaps even General Jones in D.C.) to step down, and turning the project over to Petraeus (who ran COIN in Iraq without the ripples of discontent over rules of engagement that we saw in Afghanistan), someone of the caliber of Ryan Crocker (who was as firm in private with Maliki as he was supportive in public) as ambassador or diplomatic head of the theater, and the likes of a General Mattis (who understands the proper order of defeating the enemy so that the civilians among then can be won over without fear, and who is as polite and collegial as he is tough) as Centcom commander. They are the the very best this country right now has to offer, and it would show inspired presidential leadership when the McChrystal fiasco had just a day ago put Obama in a bad/worse choice scenario.
This should be a no-brainer for a “never waste a crisis” mentality that is so prevalent in the White House.
Our Grant and Sherman
Some of us had hoped that a leader like General Mattis might become Centcom commander. The recent announcement that Secretary Gates, wisely, has just done that could not come at a better time. Mattis is a proven battlefield commander, a sophisticated student of history, and unshakeable in his nerve and purpose.
We now have, with General Petraeus as ground commander, our two most gifted senior combat generals in charge of Afghanistan, who have worked well together and who were brilliant in Iraq in its darkest hours. I think all this is somewhat analogous to the final rise of Grant and Sherman in spring 1864 — or Ridgway in the last days of 1950, or the arrival of Abrams in Vietnam in latter 1968 — and increases our chances for success, despite the pervading pessimism of the hour that Afghanistan is lost. Secretary Gates should be congratulated for the appointment.
Now, if the diplomatic confusion can be sorted out, and responsibilities unified into one office that deals in a more sophisticated fashion with the Karzai government and is more attuned to our two generals, we can recover. Perhaps now, as a trifecta, bring back the gallant and gifted Ryan Crocker, who proved to be the most talented American diplomat, in the most harrowing of conditions, of the last two decades?
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson