The following are the thoughts of a two-tour Iraq veteran Army officer on the Petraeus, Odierno and Chiarelli promotions. Criticism follows.
Once again, the military rewarding failure… First, Chiarelli to MNC-I [Multinational Corps-Iraq] commander after losing Baghdad as 1st Cavalry Division commander, next [Gen. George] Casey to Army Chief of Staff after overseeing total failure as MNF-I [Multinational Force-Iraq] commander, then Odierno to MNC-I commander after overseeing total failure as 4th Infantry Division commander, and now Odierno to MNF-I commander and Chiarelli to Vice Chief of Staff. You have got to be kidding me. How much does one have to fail at the top levels in the Army in order to be forced to retire? … Wouldn’t one expect a career Army officer to recognize an insurgency when he sees one instead of taking years and thousands of American lives? Casey, Odierno, and Chiarelli’s wives must run a mean officers’ wives club.
Odierno and Petraeus were division commanders under the Peter Principle proving Sanchez when our overarching strategy in Iraq was to kill and capture bandits while denying there was an insurgency… Odierno did exactly what Sanchez wanted - kill and capture bandits. Odierno excelled at the capture part and overflooded Abu Gharib (remember that?), while Petraeus did his own thing up north (think back to the often-mocked "winning hearts and minds" mantra). Then Odierno was promoted to lieutenant general and suddenly became a counterinsurgency convert under his former peer Petraeus after a career as a "big guns go boom" artillery officer. Meanwhile, a PhD holding, Tal-Afar saving, counterinsurgency expert like COL [H.R.] McMaster is passed over for brigadier general twice, and a career green beret like Lieutenant General [Stanley] McChrystal is not given MNC-I command. Petraeus can only do so much with a sloppy joe officer corps above the rank of the few good captains that stayed in the Army. I thank God that Bush will be out of office by the time the do whatever the boss tells you to do, inadaptable artillery officer Odierno maneuvers to become Army Chief of Staff. … Oh the days of George Marshall relieving 50 brigade commanders at the start of World War II in order to get adaptable troop leaders in leadership positions are over…
There’s something to this, but I think it misses a few important points. If we’re going to run an Army on the basis of success in Iraq, we’re not going to have anyone above, say, brigade commander. Even with McMaster — he left Tall Afar and backsliding took place! And that’s not because our Army sucks. It’s because the Iraq war is . The higher up the chain you get, the more strategic judgment has to be exercised. But strategically, Iraq is a series of ingredients that never become a meal: a tiny decision by an Iraqi functionary ("fire these 25 policemen from the opposing sect") becomes a huge security problem.
I don’t want to cannibalize a forthcoming piece, but my understanding is that it’s not fair to Chiarelli to say that he "lost" Baghdad. He had to teach counterinsurgency to the 1st Cav. That’s a steep learning curve, to be sure, but units from the 1st Cav served in Baghdad, Diyala and Mosul during the surge. If you want to say that the surge brigades showed any success in 2007, consider that they didn’t just know how to do this stuff . If you’re going to criticize Chiarelli for "losing" Baghdad as a division commander, you have to credit him with what the division was able to accomplish just a couple years later with the experience it acquired under his watch. And when it comes to losing Baghdad, that’s a criticism more justly deserved by, say, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Bremer, Iyad Allawi, etc.
None of this is to say there aren’t more-and-less competent general officers. It’s to say that there needs to be a little more perspective before we just conclude that everyone with a star on his/her shoulder is a bumbling fool unless he’s named Petraeus.