Shadow Government

Obama has a military dream team, time for civilians to step up

Three cheers to President Obama and Secretary Defense Robert Gates for naming General Mattis to be Petraeus’s replacement as CENTCOM Commander. When Obama picked Petraeus to take over the Afghan war role, the primary downside I saw was the hole it created at CENTCOM. General Mattis is probably the best possible pick to fill that ...

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Three cheers to President Obama and Secretary Defense Robert Gates for naming General Mattis to be Petraeus’s replacement as CENTCOM Commander. When Obama picked Petraeus to take over the Afghan war role, the primary downside I saw was the hole it created at CENTCOM. General Mattis is probably the best possible pick to fill that hole. He understands warfare and should be able to partner effectively with Petraeus, as well as keep a weathered eye on the other Tier 1 concerns in the CENTCOM portfolio: Iraq and Iran. Technically, he is Petraeus’s boss, but this relationship only works well when the CENTCOM supervision is done with a deft and light touch. I think Mattis can do just that.

From the SecDef on down — Gates, Mullen, Mattis, Petraeus — we now have as strong a team staffing the Afghan branch of the military chain of command as we have ever had since 9/11.  Getting the right people in the right positions may not be a sufficient condition for success, but it is probably a necessary one in a war this complicated. Obama deserves credit for finding/keeping this impressive roster.

The strength on the military side is so striking it makes for awkward comparisons on the civilian side of the house. That side is filled with great, patriotic Americans who have served their country honorably. But that side has never really gelled and has not yet played well with others. If the internal friction and backbiting that has plagued Obama’s national security team from the start continues, President Obama won’t be able to do any better by juggling the military assignments. It will be time to juggle civilians.

Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy and Bass Fellow at Duke University, and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy. He is co-editor of Elephants in the Room.

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