COMMENTARY | Two of America’s top military leaders have hinted that they disagree with the pace of President Obama’s troop withdraw from Afghanistan. By so doing, Admiral Michael Mullen and General David Petraeus have increased the president’s political risks.
According to the Weekly Standard, Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was testifying before the House Armed Services Committee Thursday morning when he stated that while he supported the president’s plan, he also said, “What I can tell you is, the President’s decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept.”
General Petraeus, the outgoing theater commander in Afghanistan and the incoming Director of Central Intelligence, was a little more oblique in his criticism, but just as to the point, according to National Review.
Sen. Carl Levin, who was conducting the hearing, wanted to get Petraeus on record as supporting the withdraw timetable by asking him a hypothetical question. Levin did not get the answer he was looking for.
“So he asked Petraeus, paraphrasing, ‘Wouldn’t you resign if you felt uncomfortable executing the president’s order?’
“Petraeus’s response was impassioned. ‘I’m not a quitter,’ he said, adding that he has ‘thought a lot’ about the question and ‘felt strongly about’ it. ‘I don’t think that is the place for a commander to consider that kind of step unless you are in a very, very dire situation,’ Petraeus said.
“Levin quickly realized he was losing control of the rhetorical point and tried (gently) to cut Petraeus off, but the general insisted on elaborating. Petraeus said that since our troops don’t have the option of quitting, he doesn’t think he does either. It isn’t acceptable, he added, for a commander to resign ‘in protest’ of an order he disagrees with.”
Petraeus went on to say that the departure date of September, 2012, which is in the middle of the campaigning season in Afghanistan, had not military significance. But that it “risks having to do with other considerations.” General Petraeus did not elaborate, but his meaning is clear.
Petraeus artfully managed to embarrass the president and his supporters, while positioning himself as a good soldier who obeyed orders and held as his utmost priority the wellbeing of his troops. He had then managed to suggest that the president was putting at risk not only success of the mission in Afghanistan, but the lives of servicemen and women for “other considerations.”
Petraeus is a general without peer in our time, having managed to salvage the situation in Iraq and having made great strides toward doing the same in Afghanistan. But now he has also proven himself to be a master of intrigue. With that skill he should do well at the CIA and any other office of trust he finds himself in as his career of public service progresses.
President Obama, for his part, must be fuming about what his military commanders are saying. Mullen and Petraeus are not approaching anywhere near doing a MacArthur, who openly criticized Truman administration policy in Korea. They are not overtly doing anything of the sort.
Sources: Mullen Throws Obama Under the Bus …, Bill Kistrol, The Weekly Standard, June 23, 2012
A Telling Response from Petraeus, Daniel Foster, National Review, June 23, 2011