The prospective appointment of General David Petraeus as the head of the U.S. Central Command raises several questions.
First, after a year and a half as the Commanding General of Multinational Forces in Iraq, can General Petraeus objectively assess priorities as the overall commander of the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan? If history is any guide, General Petraeus will have difficulty remaining impartial. A month before the 2004 election, General Petraeus painted an overly optimistic picture in the Washington Post of Iraqi Security Forces’ progress in training. As head of the U.S. training mission to Iraq, General Petraeus’ conflict of interest was apparent, and as history has proven, the Iraqi troops were not as capable as General Petraeus made them out to be.
Second, what implications will General Petraeus’ appointment have for the next president? Should he be confirmed by the Senate, General Petraeus will be appointed to a three-year term as the next CENTCOM commander. This decision will effectively lock in General Petraeus as the head of the Central Command for the next president, whomever he or she may be, regardless of their 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 fundamentally change the strategy?
Finally, General Petraeus’ appointment means that he can no longer dodge the question of whether the war in Iraq is making America safer. Senators should press General Petraeus to answer this important question during his confirmation hearing.