Gen. James "Hoss" Cartwright, the Marine who's now the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, comes off with a golden sheen in Bob Woodward's new book, Obama's Wars. Critically, it's Cartwright who seemed to have the first insight that the way to put leverage on Afghanistan's government was to tie the withdrawal pace to concrete political and military benchmarks.
As the strategy process unfolded and it became clear that the military writ large was pushing for a massive footprint, Tony Blinken, the VP's chief national security adviser, was doing an immense amount of consulting down the chain of command, trying to come up with an alternative. He found in Cartwright an ally. If it was up to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, all of the special operations elements (the Pentagon and combatant command elements) would have gone with the vice president's alternative plan, which Cartwright helped to mold and which the State Department initially supported.
If Cartwright was the main mover in brokering the "deal" that turned into McChrystal's strategy, and he did so without the full knowledge of the president's primary military adviser, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the CENTCOM commander, David Petraeus, he's not being insubordinate, technically. There's nothing in law that says that the vice chair has to filter everything through the chief. But the book makes him look like a canny operator who understands what the president needed and did his best to facilitate it.
That's one reason why I think Cartwright might be headed to the White House soon. He's a four star; he can't be elevated to another place in the military. He's not going to be demoted, because the President likes him. So -- he'll probably be Alexander Haig'd. He might be the next national security adviser.
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