The common sense test in Iraq

LA Times:

When Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno began his second tour of duty in Iraq late in 2006 as the war's No. 2 commander, he was handed a battle plan that he and his staff quickly determined was out of touch with reality -- a set of precise timetables for handing over whole provinces to Iraqi security forces, regardless of their readiness.

"This race to victory based on a timeline did not pass the common-sense test," said a top Odierno aide, citing the threat of widespread violence.

So Odierno made a fateful move: He challenged his boss, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., to change the strategy. It was an opening salvo in the behind-the-scenes battle over what became known as the "surge."

And Odierno's challenge, though initially spurned, goes a long way toward explaining why he was nominated last week to succeed Army Gen. David H. Petraeus as the overall commander in Iraq.

The tall, intimidating artilleryman with a shaved head and a grave bearing was an early believer in what is now basic U.S. policy in Iraq. And he has proved he will stand up for it under fire.

Odierno's commitment to the new approach is all the stronger because he embraces it with the fervor of a convert. During his first tour in Iraq, in 2003 and 2004, critics charged that his dedication to overwhelming force and firepower was the antithesis of counterinsurgency doctrine.

As a result, although Petraeus has become the face of the war, it is Odierno who more truly mirrors the American military's experience in Iraq.


It is difficult to understate the skepticism within the military's tightknit group of counterinsurgency experts that greeted Odierno's assignment as the second-highest-ranking officer in Iraq with day-to-day responsibility for conducting the war.

Critics charged that his earlier reliance on force had inflamed the insurgency in the Sunni heartland north of Baghdad. It was seen as the prototype of what not to do.

Andrew Krepinevich, an influential military scholar and Pentagon consultant, said he became so concerned about Odierno's new assignment that he raised it with Petraeus.

Over dinner at Ft. Leavenworth, Krepinevich, a retired Army officer, said he thought the Army's best generals were leaving Iraq and those who remained were not up to the job.

"I got to Odierno and I said, 'I don't really understand why a guy who seemed to have so much trouble there the first time is going back in a key position,' " Krepinevich recalled. "Petraeus said to me, 'Well, I know Ray and I think he learned a lot from that experience.' "

Krepinevich says now: "Petraeus was right, and I was wrong."


Although Petraeus, not Odierno, has received much of the credit for Iraq's shifting fortunes, Petraeus himself has publicly acknowledged Odierno's role.

"Shortly after assuming command . . . he forthrightly requested additional forces; then he and his staff began developing an operational concept for their employment," Petraeus said at the conclusion of Odierno's tour in February. "His recommendations for what came to be known as the surge forces have since been proven correct."

Anderson argues that Odierno's embrace of counterinsurgency tactics during his second tour in Iraq will be remembered as the turning point in the war.

Odierno is the kind of leader we need in Iraq and Petraeus is right to bring him back. Artillery officers have the ability to wee the battle space in three dimensions that some combat officers can't see because they are too close to the battle.

It should be noted that the failed strategy he rejected is exactly the ones the Democrats want to implement now.


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