Petraeus at Center of Military Shift

Changes are under way in the U.S. military hierarchy, with a new leader on the ground in Iraq — Lt. Gen. David Petraeus — and a likely increase in troop strength that not all U.S. military leaders support.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been following the changes in the military hierarchy, and he joins us from the Pentagon. Tom, hello.

TOM BOWMAN: Hello, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So what can't you tell us? What is behind these new selections?

BOWMAN: Well, what's behind it is a new strategy the president is coming up with in Iraq. And word is that he'll be sending more troops to Iraq, maybe 15,000 or so additional soldiers and Marines. Some people are calling this a surge. And the sense is with a new strategy, the White House wants to have new officers to put it into effect.

WERTHEIMER: So why choose General Petraeus?

BOWMAN: Well, General David Petraeus has extensive experience in Iraq. He commanded 101st Airborne Division during the war, and then became sort of a viceroy in northern Iraq around the city of Mosul. He helped secure and rebuild that area. He worked well with the local tribal sheikhs and local leaders.

And then after that, he helped train the Iraqi forces - the police and the soldiers. Besides that, he also has a Ph.D. from Princeton and is considered an expert on counterinsurgency warfare. He just co-wrote the army's new manual on how to fight a counterinsurgency.

WERTHEIMER: Now we're not exactly sure what General Petraeus thinks about sending more troops. But I understand there is quite a bit of reluctance among much of the brass to do this.

BOWMAN: That's right. A number of senior military officers, also many members of Congress, worry that this surge just won't accomplish much. They've been saying all along that this is a political issue in Iraq, it's not a military one.

And the military officers in particular worry that the majority Shia are not willing to reconcile with the once-ruling Sunni minority, and both sides are basically killing each other. And the military officers say you need a political settlement here before there can be peace.

But other important voices - Retired Army General Jack Keane, John McCain - say you must establish security first before you can create a new country, before there can be a political settlement.

WERTHEIMER: So there's a debate. Or maybe we should call it a discussion.

BOWMAN: I would call it a debate. The other thing, the military complains that they're the ones doing the heavy lifting, here, that the other parts of the American government - the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Treasury Department - they're not doing what needs to be done here. They're not working on political changes within Iraq. They're not rebuilding the country. And they also don't have enough personnel over there from those parts of the government.

So some of the military are afraid that all is lost in Iraq, or all could be lost in Iraq. And when all is said and done, they will be the ones who are blamed for the failure.

WERTHEIMER: So do you suppose there is risk for General Petraeus in taking on this assignment from the president?

BOWMAN: Yeah, I think there is some risk for him here. He's had a stellar career. This is clearly the hardest job he's ever had. But in the final analysis, he's coming in late to the game of running the entire country. And he's really coming in to a house that's already on fire. It's really the policymakers who will bear the ultimate responsibility here.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Tom Bowman, reporting from the Pentagon. Tom, thanks a lot.

BOWMAN: Thank you, Linda.

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