'You're Not Accountable, Jack'
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane came to the White House on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2007, to deliver a strong and sober message. The military chain of command, he told Vice President Cheney, wasn't on the same page as the current U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus. The tension threatened to undermine Petraeus's chances of continued success, Keane said.
Keane, a former vice chief of the Army, was 63, 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, with a boxer's face framed by tightly cropped hair. As far as Cheney was concerned, Keane was outstanding -- an experienced soldier who had maintained great Pentagon contacts, had no ax to grind and had been a mentor to Petraeus. Keane was all meat and potatoes; he didn't inflate expectations or waste Cheney's time.
By the late summer of 2007, Keane had established an unusual back-channel relationship with the president and vice president, a kind of shadow general advising them on the Iraq war. This September visit was the fifth back-channel briefing that Keane had given the vice president that year.
As Keane was laying out his view, President Bush walked in.
"I know you're talking to Dave," Bush said to Keane. "I know that the Joint Chiefs and the Pentagon have some concerns." The JCS had not favored the surge of 30,000 troops that Bush had decided was essential to quell the escalating violence in Iraq; the chiefs were deeply worried that the surge left no strategic reserve for an unexpected crisis elsewhere.
Keane repeated what he had just told Cheney: The JCS and Adm. William J. Fallon, Petraeus's boss at Central Command, were insisting on studies and reports to justify even the smallest request for more resources for Iraq. Their persistent pressure, pushing Petraeus for a faster drawdown, was taking its toll.
"There is very little preparation," Keane said, "for somebody who grows up in a military culture to have an unsupportive chain of command above you and still be succeeding. You normally get fired." The result, he said, is that Petraeus "starts to look for ways to get rid of this pressure, which means some kind of accommodation."
Bush said he wanted Keane to deliver a personal message to Petraeus from his commander-in-chief. After Bush laid out his thoughts, Keane went to the large West Wing lobby, sat among the couches and chairs and wrote out the president's words.
Then he called Petraeus and said they had to meet.
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On Saturday, Sept. 15, Keane went to Quarters 12-A at Fort Myer in Arlington, where Petraeus and his wife, Holly, maintained Army housing while he was stationed in Iraq. Ever since Petraeus had taken over as the Iraq commander, Keane had been making regular visits to Baghdad to see his protégé. Upon his return to Washington, Keane would come to the White House or the vice president's residence, establishing a line of communication -- Petraeus to Keane to Cheney and Bush -- around the official chain of command.