Wars Within Wars

Ann Scott Tyler had a little-noticed scoop about General David Petraeus being recalled for a brief trip back to DC to chair the board that's in charge of recommending who'll get promoted to one star general in the Army. Fred Kaplan did a column hailing the good news here, with the Army finally stepping away from some of its "big war" commitments and recognizing the need to reward expertise in counterinsurgency and stability ops in concrete ways.

One should note, though, that this good development is deeply tied in with a less-positive development, namely that the counterinsurgency advocates inside the military are increasingly deciding that the fate of their bureaucratic struggle against the "Big Army" crowd is intimately linked to the Iraq War. Whereas a couple of years ago, these people tended to be a major source of dissent on the war from inside the government, Petraeus' appointment and the GOP's thunderous political embrace of his all-encompassing genius have changed the calculus. And if he now has the opportunity to be a key patron for a new generation of senior counterinsurgency-focused officers, then Petraeus' standing, counterinsurgency's standing, and the war's standing all become more-and-more tightly entwined.

The trouble here is that though the counterinsurgency people are, I think, generally correct about the sort of scenarios we should be preparing our military for, Iraq is, at this point, completely lacking in strategic rationale. But the two ideas -- should we be fighting in Iraq, versus should we be preparing more for stability operations rather than big state-to-state warfare -- really ought to be considered separately.