How Bush Uses His Generals

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, July 16, 2007; 2:00 PM

President Bush says that he should be trusted on military issues because he listens to his commanders. But he has a tendency to celebrate his generals when they're providing him political cover -- then stick a knife in their backs when they're no longer of any use to him.

Last week, Bush rejected any blame for the chaos that ensued in Iraq after the March 2003 invasion. So whose fault was it? Bush pointed the finger at Gen. Tommy Franks, the Central Command chief at the time. "My primary question to General Franks was, do you have what it takes to succeed? And do you have what it takes to succeed after you succeed in removing Saddam Hussein? And his answer was, yes," Bush said.

That's the same Tommy Franks to whom Bush awarded a Medal of Freedom in 2004.

And when virtually all of Bush military line of command, including the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff, opposed his "surge" proposal late last year, Bush responded not by listening, but by removing the top two commanders responsible for Iraq and replacing them with more amenable leaders, including Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Petraeus, as it happens, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post just five weeks before the 2004 election describing what he called "reasons for optimism" in Iraq. Now Petraeus is Bush's "main man." Maybe he should be watching his back.

Thomas E. Ricks writes in Sunday's Washington Post: "Almost every time President Bush has defended his new strategy in Iraq this year, he has invoked the name of the top commander, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus.

"Speaking in Cleveland on Tuesday, Bush called Petraeus his 'main man' -- a 'smart, capable man who gives me his candid advice.' And on Thursday, as the president sought to stave off a revolt among congressional Republicans, he said he wanted 'to wait to see what David has to say. I trust David Petraeus, his judgment.'"

Yet Ricks continues: "Some of Petraeus's military comrades worry that the general is being set up by the Bush administration as a scapegoat if conditions in Iraq fail to improve," he writes. "'The danger is that Petraeus will now be painted as failing to live up to expectations and become the fall guy for the administration,' one retired four-star officer said. . . .

"When Bush and his aides shift military strategy, they seem to turn on the generals on whom they once relied publicly, said Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official. During the run-up to the war, when Gen. Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, told Congress that more troops were needed to secure Iraq, he was publicly rebuked by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz.

"More recently, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Petraeus's predecessor, was blamed for not doing more to improve security for Iraqi civilians, and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was effectively fired last month by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

"'This is an administration that wants to blame the generals,' Korb said."

Bush on Franks

From Thursday's press conference:


CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company