On April 8 and 9, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus will present his assessment of the security situation in Iraq to Congress. But if Petraeus is again allowed to testify without his superior officers, as he did last September, neither Congress nor the American people will be receiving the complete picture.
It is clear that the Bush administration wants to keep it that way. In a recent media briefing, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said: "I've asked Gen. Petraeus to make his evaluation ... completely based on what's going on in Iraq. He doesn't need to look over his shoulder, think about stress on the force or anything else." Moreover, President Bush has indicated that he will allow Petraeus alone to decide whether to continue the troop drawdown.
But other military leaders who are looking at the larger national security picture need to be consulted. They know well how maintaining an average of 130,000 troops in Iraq over the last five years has not only decimated our ground forces, it also has compromised our security interests around the globe.
"The Army is out of balance," Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. told the House Armed Services Committee last fall. That's a polite way of saying it's broken. Casey, who is responsible for the Army's overall health, is rightfully concerned.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, March 17, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 15 Editorial pages Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Generals: A March 14 Op-Ed article about Gen. David H. Petraeus' upcoming Iraq testimony used two branches of service, the Army and Marines, to identify Gen. Peter Pace. He is a Marine.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, echoed Casey's unease. In January, Mullen told the Marine Corps Times that there was reserve capacity in the Navy and Air Force but that ground troops were a different story. "Clearly, if we had to do something with our ground forces, a significant substitute would be a big challenge," he said. Mullen's predecessor, Army Marine Gen. Peter Pace, also has expressed his discomfort with our ability to respond to other crises. Before leaving his post last October, Pace, stated that the troop commitment to Iraq would "make a large difference in our ability to be prepared for unforeseen contingencies" in the region and elsewhere.
The abrupt retirement Tuesday of Adm. William J. Fallon, the head of U.S. Central Command, demonstrates how imperative it is that Congress hear his unfettered perspective or that of his successor. Fallon was responsible for overall U.S. security interests in the Middle East and was known to be particularly concerned about the war in Afghanistan.
Today, the government of President Hamid Karzai controls less than a third of Afghanistan. Three independent reports released last month concluded that the security situation there has deteriorated to its worst level in two years. Fallon was understandably uncomfortable with the administration's focus on Iraq. He wanted and needed more troops in Afghanistan -- the true central front of the war on terror -- but could not get them unless the number of troops in Iraq fell well below 130,000.
So far, neither the acting head of Central Command nor any of the Joint Chiefs have been asked to testify when Petraeus does next month. That was not the case with the previous commanding generals in Iraq. Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee with Gen. John P. Abizaid -- then Centcom commander -- once in 2004. Casey, who was commander in Iraq from June 2004 to February 2007, testified before the Senate and House Armed Services committees a total of four times, always with Abizaid. In fact, Petraeus was the first commander of U.S. forces in Iraq to testify on the war without the Centcom commander by his side. Moreover, Fallon never testified before either committee solely on Iraq during his yearlong tenure as Centcom commander.
The reason we need the head of Central Command and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the table was demonstrated last September. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), a former secretary of the Navy, asked Petraeus, "If we continue what you have laid before the Congress ... does this make America safer?" Petraeus correctly responded, "Well sir, I don't know."
Mullen, Casey, Fallon or the next Centcom commander could tell Congress and the country that the answer to that question is no. Congress must demand the full military picture if it is to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense.