Center for American Progress

Congress Must Ask General Petraeus Tough Questions

Congress Must Ask General Petraeus Tough Questions

There are several key questions that lawmakers should ask General Petraeus so that the American people can be assured that General Petraeus’ CENTCOM appointment will serve their interests.

General Petraeus will testify tomorrow at a nomination hearing for his appointment as head of the U.S. Central Command . (AP)
General Petraeus will testify tomorrow at a nomination hearing for his appointment as head of the U.S. Central Command . (AP)

The Congress must use Gen. David Petraeus’ confirmation hearing to be the head of the U.S. Central Command to ask the general tough questions about the implications of his appointment. As CENTCOM commander, Gen. Petraeus will have to balance overall U.S. national security interests in the greater Middle East while also managing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After only a little more than year and a half as the Commanding Gen. of Multinational Forces in Iraq and as the architect of the current U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in the country, Congress must ensure that Petraeus can be objective in managing these challenges.

There are several key questions that lawmakers should ask Gen. Petraeus so that the American people can be assured that his CENTCOM appointment will serve their interests.

1. As the architect of U.S. military strategy in Iraq, can Gen. Petraeus objectively assess the situation in Iraq and the relative priorities of the war in Iraq as opposed to the war in Afghanistan?

If history is any guide, Gen. Petraeus will have difficulty remaining impartial. A month before the 2004 election, Gen. Petraeus painted an overly optimistic picture in the Washington Post of Iraqi Security Forces’ training progress. Because he was then the head of the U.S. training mission to Iraq, Gen. Petraeus’ conflict of interest was apparent, and as history has proven, the Iraqi troops were not as capable as Gen. Petraeus made them out to be.

2. What implications will Gen. Petraeus’ appointment have for the next president?

Should Gen. Petraeus be confirmed by the Senate, he will be appointed to a three-year term. As a combat commander he can only be removed for cause or be transferred to another job.

This decision will effectively lock in Gen. Petraeus as the head of the Central Command for the next president, regardless of his or her objectives in Iraq.

Since Petraeus is so readily identified with the current policy (President Bush refers to it as “the Petraeus Strategy”), will he be willing to enthusiastically implement a new strategy if the next president decides to change course?

3. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen recently stated that, “In Iraq we do what we must, in Afghanistan we do what we can.” Does Gen. Petraeus agree with this statement?

Senior allied commanders in Afghanistan have stated that they need at least 10,000 more troops to counter the growing Taliban and Al Qaeda threat.

Despite these requests, the United States was only able to send 3,200 Marines on a temporary basis earlier this spring. When their deployment ends this fall, will Gen. Petraeus recommend replacing these troops or consider increasing their numbers given the increasingly grave security environment in Afghanistan? Will he be willing to reduce the force levels in Iraq to do this?

Admiral Mullen went on to state that the operation in Afghanistan is, “by design and necessity, an economy-of-force operation. There is no getting around that. Our main focus, militarily, in the region and in the world right now is rightly and firmly in Iraq.” Congress should press Gen. Petraeus to see if he agrees with this statement.

4. The Government Accountability Office recently concluded that, “the United States lacks a comprehensive plan to destroy the terrorist threat and close the safe haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.” Does Gen. Petraeus agree?

What are some concrete steps that Gen. Petraeus will undertake to address this shortcoming?

The GAO went on to conclude that the United States has relied principally on the Pakistani military to address U.S. national security goals. As CENTCOM commander, what will Gen. Petraeus do to ensure that the United States employs all its instruments of national power to address U.S. goals in the tribal areas and Pakistan in general?

5. The Pentagon recently alerted seven active duty and four guard brigades for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. For one of these active duty brigades, this will be their fourth deployment. For four of these active duty brigades, this will be their third deployment. ( 1) For three of these guard brigades this will mean that they have been called up twice since 9-11. Does this concern Gen. Petraeus? How long does Gen. Petraeus think this can continue?

As a result of this overstretch:

  • Over 1.6 million American service members have been deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan
  • Approximately one in five service members who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq currently have post-traumatic stress disorder or depression
  • Suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2007 reached their highest level since the Army began keeping such records in 1980 (121)
  • The number of waivers issued to active-duty army recruits with felony convictions jumped to 511 in 2007, from 249 in 2006
  • So far, in just the first six months of fiscal year 2008, the army has granted moral waivers to 13 percent of its recruits despite lowering its educational aptitude levels significantly

6. Army Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. Richard Cody, and Marine Corps Assistant Commandant, Gen. Robert Magnus, recently testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee and painted a stark picture of Army and Marine readiness and the ability of U.S. ground forces to meet contingencies in the near future. Does this concern Gen. Petraeus?

Gen. Cody said that the Army no longer has fully ready combat brigades on standby should a threat or conflict occur.

"I’ve never seen our lack of strategic depth be where it is today," said Cody, who has been the senior Army official in charge of operations and readiness for the past six years.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, echoed Cody’s concern. “Clearly, if we had to do something with our ground forces, a significant substitute would be a big challenge," he said.

The Marine Corps’ ability to train for potential conflicts has been "significantly degraded," said Gen. Magnus.

Gen. Magnus went on to state that the current pace of operations is, “unsustainable.”

7. Is our effort in Iraq making the United States safer?

According to retired Navy Vice Adm. Michael McConnell, Director of National Intelligence, Al Qaeda is gaining in strength from its state haven in Pakistan and is steadily improving its ability to recruit, train, and position operatives capable of carrying out attacks inside the United States.

As three independent reports released in March of this year concluded, the security situation in Afghanistan—the true central front in the war on terrorist networks—has deteriorated to its worst level in two years.

8. Has the administration’s excessive focus on Iraq distracted the United States from its broader strategic interests?

According to the U.S. State Depart ment, there was a 29 percent increase in terrorism worldwide in 2006 compared to 2005 figures.

Terror attacks in 2007 saw a marked increase in sophistication. According to the State Department, the number of terrorist acts worldwide remained constant from 2006 to 2007. However, fatalities resulting from 2007 attacks rose nearly 10 percent as compared to attacks in 2006.

In November of 2007, a National Security Council evaluation of the effort in Afghanistan concluded that “only ‘the kinetic piece’” (individual battles against Taliban fighters) has shown substantial progress while strategic goals remain unmet.

In February of this year, Director of National Intelligence McConnell estimated in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the government in Kabul exerts control over approximately 30 percent of the country, while the Taliban controls 10 percent.

The administration has spent only $140 billion in Afghanistan in seven years of operations. Iraq has received an average of $112 billion per year, compared to only $20 billion for Afghanistan.

What’s more, a Pew Global Attitudes poll found that the image of the United States in most parts of the world has declined since 2002, and that the U.S. image remains “abysmal” in most Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia.

9. What is financial the cost of the Iraq war? Does Gen. Petraeus believe that these costs are worth the gains we have achieved?

The direct cost of the Iraq war through Fiscal Year 2008 exceeds $675 billion.

The projected total cost of the war in Iraq until 2017 ranges from $1.1 trillion to $1.5 trillion.

The Senate’s Joint Economic Committee recently estimated the current total cost of the Iraq war to be $1.3 trillion.

10. What factors are primarily responsible for the recent reduction of violence in Iraq?

As Gen. Petraeus himself acknowledges, much of the credit for the decrease in violence can be attributed to developments that have not been instigated by U.S. forces or the Iraqi government.

A recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq indicates that population displacement and sectarian cleansing are major factors behind the recent reduction in violence.

The number of internally displaced persons and Iraqi refugees has increased to nearly 4.9 million, nearly one out of every five Iraqis.

U.S. officials report that Baghdad, which had a 65 percent Sunni-majority population around the start of the war, is now a 75 percent to 80 percent Shi’a-majority city.

The unilateral ceasefire of Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army has contributed significantly to the recent reduction in violence.

11. Are Iraqi Security Forces improving in both capability and capacity?

The Iraqi army controls only nine of Iraq’s 18 provinces. In his January 2007 address, President Bush promised that all would be under Iraqi control by the end of 2007.

In late March the Iraqi Army and police were unable to bring the situation in Basra under control without American help.

As recently as late February of this year, the Iraqi army was unable to conduct a key offensive in Mosul because significant numbers of Iraqi troops did not show up.

American forces do not trust Iraqi troops enough to tell them about future operations. According to Iraqi army Col. Ahmed Khouri, “the Iraqi Police we cannot trust 100 percent. They always leak our plans.” According to Iraqi Army Col. Ali Omar Ali, “There are those who say the Iraqi Army can control Iraq without the Americans, but they are liars. Without the Americans it would be impossible for us to control Iraq.”

A commission headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, a former NATO commander and Marine Commandant, determined that the Iraqi Interior Ministry is “dysfunctional” and “sectarian.” The Jones Commission on Iraqi Security Forces also argued Iraqi National Police are “operationally ineffective” and should be disbanded and reorganized and that the Iraqi security forces will not be able to fulfill an independent security role within the next six to 12 months.

12. Have Iraqis made progress on the benchmarks agreed upon at the beginning of the surge? How long will Americans continue to fight and die hoping that Iraqis will make political progress? What new leverage can the United States bring on the Iraqis to get them to make more political progress?

Only three of the 18 benchmarks laid out by the administration in January 2007 have been fully met. Those that were met include: establishing supporting political, media, economic, and service committees in support of the Baghdad security plan; establishing the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad; and ensuring that the rights of minority political parties are protected in the Iraqi legislature.

Two of the three benchmarks that have been fully met are security-related and are primarily due to the efforts of U.S. forces.

As noted above, the crucial political benchmarks—the oil sharing law, the provincial powers law, the amnesty law, the constitutional review and the formation of semi-autonomous regions—have not yet been satisfactorily implemented.


1. Because the Army would not provide this information, the Center for American Progress had to compile this data from an extensive review of available open source information about individual brigade deployments in local news reports and by calling the headquarters of individual brigades. Although we have high confidence that the information presented is accurate, we openly acknowledge that some pieces of information may be inaccurate or incomplete.

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