New Iraq Commanders Differ
Friday, January 5, 2007; 10:54 PM
WASHINGTON -- President Bush is installing two experienced commanders from vastly different backgrounds to carry out the new Iraq policy he will announce next week, substituting them for generals who had qualms about a fresh buildup of U.S. troops in the war zone.
One of the new military chiefs, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, is an Iraq veteran who wrote a Princeton dissertation titled "The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam." Iraq has drawn more and more comparisons to that quagmire.
The other new man, Adm. William Fallon, is a Navy veteran who to some is an odd choice to oversee a ground conflict in a nearly landlocked country. Yet as top U.S. commander in the Pacific, he has experience in a region that, like the Middle East, has several trouble spots.
Some former military officers said whether the two succeed depends less on their resumes than on Bush's new policy, which he will announce as early as Wednesday. Adding thousands of additional U.S. troops to the 132,000 already there is a leading proposal he is considering, along with new economic and political approaches.
"It's the policy that's at fault here, not the personnel," said Tony McPeak, Air Force chief of staff during the administration of George H.W. Bush. Switching people without a good new plan will only be like putting "old wine in new bottles," he said.
Even so, the changes would help Bush assert that he is taking a fresh approach in the troubled Iraq four-year-old war, in which more than 3,000 Americans have died and even Bush has conceded the U.S. is not winning. And it will insert people into the fray who will bring a fresh perspective.
"Will he bring new ideas? Yes," retired Marine Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, former deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, said of Petraeus. "Will he push his new ideas forward? Yes, he will."
As part of Bush's overhaul, the White House announced he is replacing the two top generals in the war. Gen. John Abizaid, the U.S. commander in the Middle East, and Gen. George Casey, the chief general in Iraq, are both expected to leave their jobs in coming weeks.
Fallon, the U.S. commander in the Pacific, replaces Abizaid, who was to retire months ago. Fallon's portfolio will also include the lower-intensity war in Afghanistan.
Petraeus, who headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces, will take Casey's place as ground commander in Iraq. Casey in turn will replace Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who is retiring. All new appointments require Senate confirmation, which is expected.
In a statement, Bush said Fallon had earned a reputation as one of the nation's "foremost military strategists."
Of Petraeus, he said, "His service in Iraq has equipped him with expertise in irregular warfare and stability operations and an understanding of the enemy we face."