Last Thursday the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq came out, stating that Iraqi leaders “remain unable to govern effectively” and that the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki “will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months.”
On the heels of the NIE's release, Senator John Warner (R-Virginia), member and former chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, called for Mr. Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in time for Christmas. Then the Los Angeles Times reported that outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace was "expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half."
That's good, I thought, having these two establishment stalwarts coming out and saying what needs to be said. Too bad they're just now getting around to it. Congressman John Murtha, once an avid Iraq War supporter, came out in favor of redeploying our troops clear back in November 2005, and has consistently maintained that position despite having become the object of infantile vituperation from the lowest common denominators of the pro-war right.
Were Warner and Pace so afraid of taking a little heat that they had to wait until the end of their professional lives to finally confess what they really think about Mr. Bush's woebegone war?
People act from mixed motivations. 80 years old now, Senator Warner may be thinking about that heart to heart chat he's due to have with Saint Peter in the near future. Warner is also up for reelection in 2008. Based on his comments to Tim Russert on Meet the Press last Sunday, he has no interest in vying for another term because of his age, but he no doubt has concern for the future of his political party and doesn’t want to see it take a ten count on account of the Iraq War. By calling for some sort of withdrawal timeline, Warner makes it easier for other congressional Republicans to distance themselves from the White House's Iraq policy prior to the next election. I'm quite certain that Warner also has a genuine desire to do what's right for his country; I'm just not entirely jolly over the way he's gone about doing it.
Warner didn't need this latest NIE to realize that the Maliki government is "ineffective." In October of last year, he described the situation in Iraq as "drifting sideways," and said that if Iraq's government couldn't function effectively after several months, "It’s the responsibility of our government to determine is there a change in course we should take. I wouldn’t take any option off the table at this time.” But Warner made it clear that he was not trying to set a deadline for the Maliki government to take action, and that he supported the Bush administration's policy.
Now, almost a year later, Warner says that a declaration by Bush that the U.S. is beginning to withdraw will get Iraqi political leaders' attention--but as of last Thursday, Warner was still insisting that he would continue oppose congressional efforts to force a withdrawal. What, it's okay with Warner if Bush orders a withdrawal but not if Congress forces one? White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Thursday that while Mr. Bush "respects" Warner's advice, he'll wait to hear the advice of Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus in mid-September before he makes any decisions on strategy changes.
That must have bent Warner's nose clear back to his right sideburn, because by Sunday he was telling Tim Russert that he might support Democratic legislation ordering withdrawals unless Bush orders timetables soon. But he's "going to have to evaluate it," he said. "I don't say that as a threat, but I say that is an option we all have to consider." If we wait until Warner is done evaluating and considering, we'll be debating troop levels in Iraq 'til kingdom come.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates chose to replace Pace as senior U.S. military officer when his present term expires at the end of September rather than expose him to another confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. On Friday we got the unofficial but sanctioned leak from anonymous "administration and military officials" that Pace would recommend severe troop level cuts in Iraq because he and the Joint Chiefs believe it's necessary to make the military able to respond to "other threats." This was the same concern Pace and the Joint Chiefs held in private regarding the surge strategy before they backed down and supported it publicly. Not surprisingly, "officials" told LA Times reporters that Pace expected to offer his advice to cut troop levels privately rather than issue a full report.
Shortly after the LA Times article hit the streets, Pace's office could neither "confirm nor deny" the report, and by later in the day his people declared that, "the story is wrong."
During his tenure as JCS chairman, Pace has typified the kind of general Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling described in his celebrated article "A failure in Generalship" as lacking in “professional character,” “creative intelligence” and “moral courage." The actions of Warner and Pace recall Colonel H.R. McMaster's book Dereliction of Duty, in which McMaster pillories the Vietnam era Joint Chiefs for supporting strategies they knew to be "fundamentally flawed."
Passing judgment on human souls is above my paygrade, but I suspect that Warner and Pace will spend a hefty chunk of eternity explaining why they hemmed and hawed and prevaricated when their country needed them to stand tall and act like the leaders they pretended to be.
Related article: "Challenging the Generals" by Fred Kaplan.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.