Sunday, February 8, 2009

General Ray Odierno and the Surge

Interesting Tom Ricks story this morning vocally bringing forth the name of General Ray Odierno as the "real" author of the surge strategy, and cataloging his behind the scenes efforts to bring it forward.

A couple of things are worth mentioning. As a one-star, Ray Odierno was part of the leadership of the J-8 Directorate of the Joint Staff, where I worked. He's a huge, imposing fellow with a bald head, sort of reminiscent of a Bond villain if truth be told. I briefed him a number of times on things in the missile defense world and he always struck me as thoughtful and interested, but not necessarily a blinding intellect like the J8 at the time, Lieutenant General Cartwright (who is now the Vice Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).

Odierno went on the command the 4th Infantry Division, the one whose entree into Northern Iraq for the Invasion of 2003 was negated by the Turkish government's decision not to allow their overland transport through Turkey.

Odierno joined the fight late, by which time another Division Commander, Major General Petreus with the 101st, had begun to make a name for himself by working with the locals to pacify the growing insurgency. Odierno came in his Division was more like a bull in a china shop, and Odierno came under increasing questions as to his methods and tactics.

After rotating out of Iraq, Petreus goes off to a job where he basically re-writes the Army's manual on counterinsurgency, before being sent back there as Viceroy. Odierno--who had a change of heart in how he thought the insurgency should be broken, had been there for a while as the former Viceroy's #2 man. According to this article, it was Odierno who provided the real impetus to get the ball rolling on a surge, working behind his boss's back (then General Casey, who was kicked upstairs to Army Chief of Staff) with his homeys in Washington to change the defeatist strategy to one that can win.

Where Odierno is less honorable here is that Petreus had reached the same conclusion and was working it from a different angle. The two of them together had the force of will to get before the President an option to that history will show as George Bush's most courageous decision.

That said, Odierno should be wary of so publicly crowing about his end run of his own chain of command. I'm not saying that he shouldn't have done it. I'm saying that he shouldn't so ardently support it as a bureaucratic tactic. Payback's a bitch, General, and I don't think you'd be that pleased with one of your subalterns who opens his own path to the Obama Administration now that you're in charge of Iraq.


Anonymous said...

I want to make a couple of brief points. Please accept my apologizes because these shotgun blasts (points) deserve a lot more detail and attention then i am prepared to offer at this time.

I was in Iraq for all of 2006 and a couple of months into 2007, just as the "surge" was beginning to take root.

1. History will treat GEN Casey much harsher then it should. Frankly his strategy is taking hold now... the surge merely expedited the occurrence. At an enormous cost to our nation’s strategic flexibility… the army may not be currently broken but its unable to react as quickly as the current POTUS may like because the surge removed a great deal of our operational flexibility. Thus his hands somewhat tied because of the surge. More important than the surge were several critical occurrences: the mixed ethnic areas had largely been purged of minority members when GEN P took command; frankly the Iraqis were getting tired; the US SOCOM unit under the leadership of LTG McCrystal was starting to have an impact; the sunni awakening in Al Ramadi was quickly moving forward -- GEN Casey recognized this and provided extra Marine forces to reinforce the success my army BDE was experiencing because the son’s of iraq were taking on and defeating AQ. Also, don't underestimate the value of Ryan Crocker -- Casey wishes he had a Crocker to work with... I could go on, but the point of my entry is that GEN Casey's actions, tactical and strategic patience, Iraqi burn out and perhaps most important Iraqi security forces were coming of age, which were propelling us to where we are today. To give all the credit to the surge is a complete misunderstanding of what actually occurred on the ground.

2. History will treat GEN Petreus much more favorably then it really should. However, i absolutely applaud his ability to recognize the key players, push and pull where and when necessary, and primarily jump on the anbar awakening -- frankly his ability to spread and support the sons of anbar was his greatest accomplishments. The MEF was preparing to distance themselves from the tribal sheiks and return its focus to the Governor. This would have been a strategic disaster. P4 quickly recognized this and directed the MEF CG to support the Army BDE’s tribal outreaches. Moving on... The counter insurgency manual that P4 is credited with authoring was largely written by soldiers and marines serving in Iraq under GEN Casey. GEN Casey’s COIN academy provided a great deal of the analysis P4 used in the manual. Frankly my unit received the electrons of the document near the end of our deployment. My fellow CDRs and i looked at it, laughed and commented that there was nothing in it that we weren't already doing -- "tell me something i don't know" was how we felt. With that said, the manual does a splendid job of articulating how to think about dealing with insurgencies... P4 performed wonderfully and did his job….

I will stop now... obviously i could provide a lot more fidelity than the mere anecdotes I’ve provided. If you have some specific questions i would be happy to address them. Cheers JPH

The Conservative Wahoo said...

General Casey is very fortunate to have you tending to his reputation.

Goldwater's Ghost said...

The detail and personal anecdotes that go along with these posts are the reasons why I visit several times a day. Great insight from the both of you.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

Joe's got great gouge on this stuff. Casey's taken a lot of heat in the media, and it is good to see an able defense.

I think the surge for me has always been more important as a political event on the homefront. The conditions Joe describes were underway...but the administration didn't have the time, nor did the American people have the wait to see how things would shake out. Bush's decision...which Joe rightly points out is hurting the my opinion hurts just less than losing would have. It is an interesting academic question to ponder where we'd be today if there were no surge, no Petreaus, etc....but I'm glad we didn't wait around to answer it.

Mudge said...

Superb discussion and thanks to Joe for the insights, and, hopefully not sounding trite, the service.

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