Rich Lowry

Casey thought the surge was all about domestic U.S. politics. Adm. Michael Mullen -- the new chairman of the chiefs -- thought there was a conspiracy afoot to blame the loss of the war on the military. And Abizaid's replacement at CENTCOM, Adm. William Fallon, shared their dim view of the surge.

A bizarre multifront battle ensued, with the new commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, fighting against our enemies with the additional forces of the surge, and CENTCOM and the chiefs fighting against the surge. According to Woodward, "Fallon was determined to challenge the merit of every personnel request."

Keane, a mentor to Petraeus, became a back channel between Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and the commander in Iraq. Keane warned Cheney, "The Joint Chiefs are more concerned about breaking the Army and Marine Corps than winning the war." When Bush gave Keane a message for Petraeus saying he'd have all the forces needed to succeed, Petraeus replied, "I wish he'd tell CENTCOM and the Pentagon that."

Astonishingly, Chairman Mullen told Keane, "I don't want you going to Iraq anymore and helping Petraeus." Mullen worried that Keane was undermining him, never mind that Petraeus -- who was fighting the war -- found Keane's counsel useful. It took interventions by Bush and Cheney to get Keane cleared again to travel to Iraq.

"Never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence," Napoleon supposedly said. In this war, the chiefs have often made that seem a false choice.


Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
 
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