What Does Gen. Petraeus Want?

Posted: Jan 09, 2007 9:29 AM
What Does Gen. Petraeus Want?

The debate over whether to surge an additional tens of thousands of American troops into Iraq has been raging for months now, and even before the president makes his address to the nation on the topic on Wednesday, House Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid have declared against any significant expansion of American ground forces in the strife-torn country.

Speaker Pelosi has gone so far as to threaten to cut off funds for any additional troops -- exactly the sort of micromanagement of the war via appropriations that Republicans warned of during the fall campaign.

Democrats, it seems, just want out as quickly as possible. Some, like Congressman Murtha, wanted to be out yesterday.

The question we all ought to be asking is what does Gen. David Petraeus thinks he needs to bring stability to Iraq?

Gen. Petraeus is the new commander of troops in Iraq, though the confirmation hearings to confirm his fourth star are still ahead. Nearly every profile of the general is very complimentary, and almost every observer agrees that Petraeus -- who oversaw the writing of the military's new counterinsurgency manual, as well as much of the rebuilding of the Iraq military -- has been described by colleagues as a "tightly compacted hank of wire" and "the most competitive man alive" in a recent Washington Post profile.

Gen. Petraeus is being asked to take on an incredibly difficult and crucial assignment. Perhaps all the civilians eager to put forward their solutions and their designs should wait not just for the president to lay out his plans, but for Gen. Petraeus to make known his assessment of what he needs to get the job done.

Often throughout the last two years, the American public was treated to the novel appearance of retired generals and retired admirals stepping forward to demand Donald Rumsfeld's resignation and a change in strategy. The left attached great significant to these pronouncements.

Now there is an active-duty general who is being handed the job. He has also already served two-plus years in Iraq, and knows firsthand the enemy and the complexity of the battles ahead. Shouldn't his opinions be given at least as much deference as critics of the administration extended to the retired generals?

If, as expected, the president calls for a dramatic increase in troops, the Democrats ought not to immediately condemn what they cannot possibly understand. Rather, the Senate should advance the hearings for Gen. Petraeus to as soon as possible, and then ask him what he thinks about the plan, and crucially, what he needs to allow the Iraqi government to establish itself and the Iraqi army to build on its growing abilities.

And if the general wants those troops, or more, the Congress of the United States -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- have got to decide whether they want to score political points or whether they want the United States to win a crucial battle in the global war on terror.

If the general testifies that the war can be won, the militias vanquished, the terrorists killed, and, crucially, Iranian interference stopped or repaid blow for blow, the American public will support him and the president standing behind him.

If the Democrats want to inaugurate their first congressional majority with a dismissal of the advice of the military, the public will see it, and they won't forget.