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Petraeus Demotion? Hardly

General David Petraeus has been confirmed as the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan and his acceptance as the new NATO ISAF commander should quickly follow. In this role, he will report both to NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Admiral Jim Stavridis and Central Command's new leader who will succeed General Petraeus (I'm still hoping for General Mattis who now leads Joint Forces Command). Since Petraeus was nominated, I've received a number of media queries if this is a demotion for General Petraeus. In a word, hardly.


Leading the U.S., NATO, and coalition effort in Afghanistan is the most important job in the U.S. military today. It is true that he'll now have two direct bosses (both U.S. four-stars), but it is also true that the White House, Congress, Secretary of Defense, and allies will still reach out directly to General Petraeus too. On paper this does create some conflicts in the chain of command, but traditional chains of command do not make sense in coalition operations of this magnitude. As I've argued elsewhere, senior military commanders are as much policy entrepreneurs as they are warfighters. General Petraeus will need both diplomatic skill as well as strategic prowess to be an effective commander. His bosses understand this, which is why he was nominated and confirmed.


General Petraeus' successor is also likely to follow the Petraeus precedent of deferring to his four-star commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given the other issues in the Central Command area of operations and the experience levels of General Petraeus in Afghanistan and General Odierno in Iraq, the new US Central Command leader is likely to focus on the broader middle east, Central Asia, and South Asia issues.

 
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