Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Hill and Odierno: the civil-military mail from Baghdad

Several notes have come in from people with first-hand knowledge of the Hill-Odierno relationship. The tone generally is that yes, there is a problem, but not so much between the two men as between their two missions. The American military has a gung-ho attitude and the feeling that they have seen, repeatedly, what happens when ...

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U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, left, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill, center, and Gen. Ray Odierno are seen at a U.S. military base near Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, July 3, 2009. (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed, Pool)

Several notes have come in from people with first-hand knowledge of the Hill-Odierno relationship. The tone generally is that yes, there is a problem, but not so much between the two men as between their two missions. The American military has a gung-ho attitude and the feeling that they have seen, repeatedly, what happens when the Americans try to rush the transition. The U.S. embassy has the feeling that the military guys are looking too much in their rear-view mirrors and that eventually you have to hand this mess over to the Iraqis, and that it better happen soon because U.S. troop numbers, more or less steady this year, are gonna fall off a cliff next year.

Plus, the military guys keep on rotating to Iraq, while they see the dips do one "hardship tour" and then get a dream assignment in Paris or Rome as their reward, never to come back to the balmy climes of the Tigris. And the alcohol-fueled social life of the embassy leaves the soldiers, who can't drink in Iraq, on the outside looking in.

Several notes have come in from people with first-hand knowledge of the Hill-Odierno relationship. The tone generally is that yes, there is a problem, but not so much between the two men as between their two missions. The American military has a gung-ho attitude and the feeling that they have seen, repeatedly, what happens when the Americans try to rush the transition. The U.S. embassy has the feeling that the military guys are looking too much in their rear-view mirrors and that eventually you have to hand this mess over to the Iraqis, and that it better happen soon because U.S. troop numbers, more or less steady this year, are gonna fall off a cliff next year.

Plus, the military guys keep on rotating to Iraq, while they see the dips do one “hardship tour” and then get a dream assignment in Paris or Rome as their reward, never to come back to the balmy climes of the Tigris. And the alcohol-fueled social life of the embassy leaves the soldiers, who can’t drink in Iraq, on the outside looking in.

My feeling: It’s six of one, a half dozen of the other. People clash because they represent clashing interests. I think Sanchez and Bremer could have gotten along famously if they had a clearer command relationship. As it happened, no one was in charge, and the missions clashed. I think the same thing may be happening here.

I’ve also gotten several e-missives from Hill himself, and seen some he launched to others. He certainly does like the word “bullshit.” His problem is that his rep with the diplomatic press corps is that the more accurate the story about him, the more he tends to use it.  

KHALID MOHAMMED/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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