December 21, 2008

Viceroy Odierno_f63d2.JPG

The Deciderer, according to the Three Amigos

There's a lot of fluff about bi-partisan agreement, withdrawing to leave a democratic Iraq and the "successes" of the last two years in an op-ed by John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham in the Washington Post today. But there's only one important bit.

Gen. Odierno was the operational architect of the surge in 2007, when he served as deputy to Gen. Petraeus, as well as of the tribal engagement strategy that persuaded Sunnis to abandon the insurgency and join our side. Gen. Odierno -- as the current commander on the ground -- is the person whose judgment should matter most in determining how fast and how deep a drawdown can be ordered responsibly.

This is the same General Odierno who recently forgot his place in the chain of command, saying that he had no intention of sticking to the U.S. agreement with Iraq which says all U.S. troops must be withdrawn from Iraqi cities by the summer. He also hinted that the 2011 final withdrawal date might be ignorable, saying "Three years is a very long time."

The Maliki government was quick to respond that it expected the letter of the status of forces agreement to be adhered to. But Bush administration loyalist Odierno, by indicating that the U.S. would continue to try to bend treaties and deals all out of shape instead of sticking to its word, has badly damaged Obama's political capital abroad before the President Elect has even taken office. It's off a piece with other military statements, as Gareth Porter reported on Thursday:

Gen. David Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who opposed Obama's 16-month withdrawal plan during the election campaign, have drawn up their own alternative withdrawal plan rejecting that timeline, as the New York Times reported Thursday. That plan was communicated to Obama in general terms by Secretary of Defence Robert M.Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen when he met with his national security team in Chicago on Dec. 15, according to the Times.

The determination of the military leadership to ignore the U.S.-Iraq agreement and to pressure Obama on his withdrawal policy was clear from remarks made by Mullen in a news conference on Nov. 17 -- after U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker had signed the agreement in Baghdad.

Mullen declared that he considered it "important" that withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq "be conditions-based". That position directly contradicted the terms of the agreement, and Mullen was asked whether the agreement required all U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, regardless of the security conditions. He answered "Yes," but then added, "Three years is a long time. Conditions could change in that period of time..."

Mullen said U.S. officials would "continue to have discussions with them over time, as conditions continue to evolve", and said that reversing the outcome of the negotiations was "theoretically possible".

Obama's decision to keep Gates, who was known to be opposed to Obama's withdrawal timetable, as defence secretary confirmed the belief of the Pentagon leadership that Obama would not resist the military effort to push back against his Iraq withdrawal plan. A source close to the Obama transition team has told IPS that Obama had made the decision for a frankly political reason. Obama and his advisers believed the administration would be politically vulnerable on national security and viewed the Gates nomination as a way of blunting political criticism of its policies.

The "Three Amigos" advice is that Odierno, not Obama, should be Commander In Chief - "the person whose judgement should matter most" - when it comes to decisions about the US military presence in Iraq and that Odierno, not the Iraqi government, should be seen as the ruler of Iraq. They're throwing their weight behind the military's undermining of Obama and the Iraqi government's authority. The correct reply to their advice is "Hell, no."

Crossposted from Newshoggers

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