Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace is the last of Donald Rumsfeld's hand-picked four-stars to be shown the door. Defense Secretary Robert Gates decided not to put him before another confirmation hearing, saying it would be "a backward-looking and very contentious process." Having served as vice chairman (under then chairman General Richard B. Myers) from 2001-2005, Pace makes for a very convenient Iraq/Afghanistan whipping boy, and no one in the White House likely wants him to face hard questions under oath about the pre-Iraq war intelligence, or on how we could have gone to war with no post-war plan.
But to what extent is Pace really responsible for our problems in the Middle East?
I have heard from numerous sources that General Pace is a sterling officer and a person of irrefutable character. I feel safe in assuming this is the case.
Strictly speaking, Pace was not in the chain of command of U.S. forces in the Middle East. Combatant and command runs from the president to the Secretary of Defense to the four-star unified commanders. In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, that unified commander is the head of Central Command (CENTCOM). Tommy Franks was CENTCOM at the starts of the Iraq and Afghan wars, followed by John Abizaid. It's probably fairer to lay blame for the quagmire on these two. Franks dropped the ball in the end zone and Abizaid spent about three years failing to recover it.
As chairman, Pace served as the senior military adviser to the president. We can't know what Pace said to Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and others behind closed doors, and he doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who will write a book that tells us all about it. But we can see what has happened with our wars, and can reasonably deduce that over the past two years, Pace gave Mr. Bush no advice or bad advice, or was unable to make him listen to good advice. Whatever the case, he didn't do a very good job of advising.
But we have, perhaps, a more pertinent bone to pick with Pace. At a recent news conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said of Pace, "I talked to him in my conference room, just him and I, and I told him how I felt, that he had not done a very good job in speaking out for some obvious things that weren't going right in Iraq."
That comment brought Reid no small amount of flak from the right, but I frankly thought Reid's word choice was kind. There were times that I thought Pace sounded more like the Minister of Truth than the nation's senior military officer. One of Pace's former assistants argues that Reid seems to forget "it was not General Pace's job to publicly disagree with President Bush's policy."
But Pace's assistant seems to confuse not disagreeing with policy and not quite telling the truth. Does anyone else remember the Sunday in March 2006 when, on the heels of the bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra, Pace told Tim Russert on Meet the Press that the Iraq war was "going very, very well."
Sergeant Rock and a Hard Place
In today's military, once you accept 0-6 (Bird Colonel or Navy Captain), you become a company man. When you pin on a fourth star, you become the company. Yeah, the Peter Paces of the Bush administration have been in a tough spot. If their level, if you disagree with policy, you can always vote with your feet--but walking away from troops in the field who don't have the option of walking away too can make for a tough choice. If you decide to stay and do whatever you can to change things for the better from within the system, you're going to have to walk a fine line between following your conscience and following orders.
A large part of me wants to give Pace a pass, to say, "he was the wrong guy, in the wrong war, in the wrong place, with the wrong boss, etc."
Pace was onboard with the Bush and Rumsfeld policies for six years, and if you're going to support policies for that long in a senior advisory, you have to take responsibility for them. All one can do is the best one can do, and I'm certain Pace gave everything he had to both the vice chair and chairman job. It may well be that given the circumstances he faced, no one could have done any better.
But, America in essence lost two wars on his watch, and he'll have to claim a large slice of the guilt pie for that.
Senator Reid also said he was disturbed to in USA Today that General David Petraeus claimed to see "astonishing signs of normalcy" in most of Baghdad.
"I was a little disappointed," Reid said. "I am waiting to see if Gen. Petraeus can be a little more candid with us." When asked if he thought Petraeus is competent, Reid answered, "Not as far as I am concerned."
I'm not ready to pass judgment on Petraeus's competence, but like Reid, I'm disturbed by some of what I've seen and heard so far. From appearances, Petraeus's greatest contributions to the security plan in Baghdad have been a pair of publicity stunts. First was him walking around an outdoor market in Baghdad buying a donut from a local merchant. Then came the all singing, all dancing shopping spree starring John McCain and Lindsey Graham with 100 of their best heavily armed friends lurking just off camera. I hate to judge anyone on the basis of what may have simply been a pair of miscues early in his job, but when you add public comments like "astonishing signs of normalcy," you start to get the idea that Petraeus is just another standard issue Bush administration four-star who knows more about spinning wars than winning them.
If Petraeus tells Congress come September that the "surge" is showing astonishing signs of progress, I hope Reid and the rest of the Senate tell him he can give one of his stars back and put in for retirement.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.