Petraeus To Get Broader Command
Billy House, Media Genera
Apr 24, 2008 -
The choice of Gen. David Petraeus to lead Tampa-based U.S. Central Command will provide a larger playing field for the general who has become the face of the war in Iraq.
Military analysts say the move signals the Bush Administration's intentions to keep a significant number of troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and continue its hard-line approach on Iran.
Less certain is how it will directly impact Centcom operations at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
"I think that has yet to be determined - we won't know until he gets there and begins to put his leadership style in place," said U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores, Fla., near Tampa, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
Centcom is responsible for running the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as military operations across wide areas of the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Both Young and Florida's Republican senator, Mel Martinez, applauded the White House and Defense Secretary Robert Gates Wednesday for selecting Petraeus to take over command of Centcom.
Martinez saying he looks forward to the general's "swift confirmation" by the Senate. Gates said he did not anticipate Petraeus leaving Iraq until late summer or early fall.
Said Martinez on Wednesday: "General Petraeus is a solid, knowledgeable, and proven leader. The turnaround we've seen in Iraq is due in large part to his leadership."
But Tampa's Democratic U.S. Rep Kathy Castor, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said that while she too values Petraeus' service to the country, she can only "hope and pray" he is up to such an important new command.
"He will have to address the consequences of the misguided Bush Iraq priorities and the growing strategic risk that makes our country less able to respond to threats to our national security ...," said Castor.
Placing Petraeus at the head of Centcom "signals the administration intention of broadening the perspective on Iraq as being just part of a larger, regional challenge," said Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington.
But he and other military experts say there is no indication that the selection of Petraeus - largely associated with leading from the front in Iraq -- reflects any intent to relocate the command's main operations, to somewhere such as to Qatar, where Centcom's forward headquarters is located.
"Operationally, this is not going to make much of a difference," predicted Preble, even if Petraeus can be expected to be Tampa occasionally, he said.
"If confirmed, it is expected that General Petreaus will operate out of the Tampa headquarters, with frequent trips to the 27-county area of responsibility," said Robert Prucha, deputy director of Centcom public affairs.
There also is no reason to believe Petraeus' arrival will have any immediate impact on the recently announced reductions of 1,100 positions at the command's Tampa-based operations.
However, analysts note that Petraeus has strong inroads with the Bush administration and "a strong force of personality."
"People are more willing to give David Petraeus resources than they were Fallon," said Thomas Donnelly, a defense and security policy expert and resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, referring to Adm. William Fallon.
Fallon resigned last month after 41 years of military service. Lt. Gen. Martin Demspey is serving as acting commander.
The selection of Petraeus to permanently succeed Fallon leaves the next presidential administration a Centcom commander seen as more in step with the Bush's intentions to stay the course in Iraq, as well as someone more in tune with its positions regarding Iran and the region in general.
On Wednesday, Gates described Fallon's decision to step down as unexpected. He said it created a big hole at "one of our most important combatant commands, one engaged in two wars and on many fronts and perhaps the most sensitive part of the world."
In fact, Fallon had been clashing with administration officials and Petraeus since taking command of Centcom. Fallon was unhappy with keeping U.S. troops in Iraq for an indeterminate period.
Fallon also did not conform with the administration on its hard-line stance on Iran.
Petraeus, though, has repeatedly pointed to Iran as exacerbating violence in Iraq.
Castor on Wednesday said the "safe haven for Al Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is one of the greatest strategic threats to the United States" and the Bush Administration "must refocus" its attention there.
"Further, I hope General Petraeus' experiences in Iraq will force him to take into account the wear and tear on our war fighters, their equipment and their families," said Castor.
Tampa Tribune reporter John Allman contributed to this story. Billy House can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1 (202) 662-7673.